A rally at Union Park brought out thousands of teachers, parents, and union supporters from Chicago, Wisconsin, Indiana and abroad as the school board and Chicago Teachers Union representatives continued to work on contract negotiations Saturday afternoon.
Union President Karen Lewis drew loud applause and chants of “Karen for Mayor” from the crowd as she took the stage at about 2:30 p.m.
Lewis said union negotiators were given a written framework for a contract on Friday, with details and completed language to be discussed on Sunday. But she said that doesn’t mean the strike is about to end.
“We are still on strike. We only have a framework for an agreement, not an agreement,” Lewis said. “Until you hear it from the CTU, we are on strike.”
Lewis, however, did say she hopes students will be able to return to class on Monday.
An hour and a half before Lewis took the stage, Rev. Jessie Jackson helped kick off the rally. Jackson focused on the disparity in funding and educational resources between schools in different areas of the city.
“When school opens again, there will be 160 schools without a public library, 140 south of North Avenue,” Jackson said. “So, we fight today for schools on the South and the West Sides to look like schools on the North Side.”
Other notable speakers and guests at the rally included Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Chicago Aldermen Robert Fioretti (2nd), Rick Munoz (22nd), and John Arena (45th), in addition to teachers and labor union representatives from Wisconsin.
On Friday, a judge struck down a law backed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker that stripped local unions of collective bargaining rights. That law drew thousands of protestors to the state's capital last year, and forced Walker into a recall election, which he handily won.
“Greetings from the state that lead the fight against Governor Walker to the city where teachers are standing firm against Rahm Emanuel,” said Bob Peterson, teacher and executive board of the Milwaukee teachers union. “Walker and Emanuel are two sides of the same pro-corporate, pro-privatization agenda.”
Assertions like Paterson’s permeated the speeches given at the rally, which elicited cheers and hollers from the crowd.
Gregory Konieczko, a CTU delegate and science teacher at Wells Community High School, was in the crowd during the rally. Afterwards, he said it felt good to see supporters come from out of state to back Chicago’s public school teachers.
But Konieczko warned that the union’s contract negotiators need to pay special attention to the finalized language in the framework to be reviewed on Sunday.
“It’s a hard process and you’ve got to fight for the right words,” Konieczko said. “Sometimes, if you change a word here and there it could change the meaning of an article, and an improperly placed article can change a whole section of the contract and maybe the whole contract. It’s been done before and we can’t let that happen.”
According the Sun-Times, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has defended the contract framework. In a statement he said “This tentative framework is an honest and principled compromise that is about who we all work for: our students.”
Here's more from the Solidarity Saturday rally: