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Chicago teachers strike extended as union studies details of proposed contract

By Noreen Ahmed-Ullah, Joel Hood and Diane Rado, Chicago Tribune –

CHICAGO — The Chicago teachers strike will continue Monday after the union’s House of Delegates refused to halt the walkout and sent the work stoppage into its second week.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said Sunday that the delegates could vote Tuesday to end the strike, meaning that classes could resume Wednesday.

Members wanted more time to digest the details of a contract offer, Lewis said.

“They’re not happy with the agreement. They’d like it to be a lot better for us than it is,” Lewis said.

The potential for 120 school closings in the coming years also has caused concern.

“It undergirds everything they talk about,” Lewis said.

The union’s delegates, numbering more than 700, have the authority to end the strike but not to approve the contract. The union’s full membership of roughly 26,000 teachers and paraprofessionals would vote later on the contract.

The proposed contract is for three years, with an option for a fourth year that both the Chicago Public Schools and union would have to agree to. There would be 3 percent raises in the first and fourth years, and 2 percent raises in the second and third years, according to the union.

Raises given for years of service and continuing education, would be preserved under the contract, according to the union. And the three highest steps would be increased.

The union also said it had agreed with CPS officials on the issues of performance reviews and teacher recall when schools close. Standards for teacher evaluations that could lead to firings would be eased, and some higher-rated teachers could get a better shot at being recalled after layoffs, sources said.

By refusing to call off the strike, the union continues months of public sparring between union leaders and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose education agenda centered on lengthening what had been among one of the shortest public school days in the country.

To build momentum early on, the mayor offered cash incentives for schools whose teachers defied the union by voting to opt out of their contracts and extend the school day a year before it would be implemented across the district.

At the same time Emanuel was promoting a longer school day, he endorsed rescinding the 4 percent raises owed teachers in their current deal, saying it was necessary to close an estimated $750 million budget gap.

Emanuel’s tough talk on education reform and his willingness to work with national groups whose reform efforts undermined organized labor, galvanized the teachers union and its members. Joined by members of Chicago’s Occupy movement, union teachers staged school sit-ins, picketed school board meetings, and chanted “fight” and “strike” in a rally of thousands at the city’s downtown Auditorium Theater in May.

Weeks later, more than 90 percent of the union’s 25,000-plus members authorized a strike if a new contract could not be reached.

With momentum on their side, teachers demanded higher pay for working that extra hour, entering negotiations demanding a 30 percent raise over two years. But as contract talks heated up, union leaders made it clear they would be willing to forgo such raises in exchange for less-restrictive job evaluations and for establishing a recall procedure for teachers who were laid off as a result of school closings, consolidations and turnarounds.

The strike’s extension has troubled many parents of students in the Chicago schools, especially those who have had to find child care and keep their children occupied during the strike. The latest development seems even more upsetting to some parents, given union leadership had offered the impression that Sunday’s vote was a formality and classes would resume Monday.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Humberto Ramirez of Jefferson Park. “We all kind of put everything on hold in finding different ways to watch the kids and keep them entertained. It’s been very very frustrating, especially knowing that earlier (this week) that they were close, that they were simply going to be putting it to a vote. It certainly sounded as though they were very, very close and they were simply then dotting their I’s and crossing their T’s.”

(Tribune reporters Hal Dardick, Bill Ruthhart, Ryan Haggerty, Jennifer Delgado, Kristen Mack, Stacy St. Clair and John Byrne contributed to this report.)

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