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Union officials agree to end Chicago teachers strike

This news story was published on September 18, 2012.
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American Federation of Teachers organizer Samantha Jordan, center, struggles to carry a box of informational papers to hand outside schools at strike headquarters at 1642 W. Van Buren in Chicago, Illinois, Tuesday, September 18, 2012.

By Ellen Jean Hirst, Jennifer Delgado, Noreen Ahmed-Ullah and Joel Hood, Chicago Tribune –

CHICAGO — The Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates decided Tuesday afternoon to end the city’s first teacher strike in 25 years and return more than 350,000 students to the classroom Wednesday.

The voice vote was taken after some 800 delegates convened at a union meeting hall near Chinatown to discuss and debate a tentative contract. Union leaders had already signed off on the agreement with Chicago Public Schools.

“We said we couldn’t solve all the problems … and it was time to suspend the strike,” CTU President Karen Lewis said at a news conference after the vote.

Debi Lilly, a Lakeview resident, said she was thrilled her third- and fifth-grader would be heading back to Hawthorne School Wednesday after missing seven days of classes.

“Thank goodness, thank goodness,” Lilly said enthusiastically. “Now I believe they’re putting the children first.”

While there still might be issues to work out between CTU and CPS, Lilly said she’s happy the teachers agreed to do it while the children are in school.

Lilly said she told her children the news right away and the family will be treating Tuesday night like it should be — a school night.

“We’ll be up early making lunches, packing backpacks and walking to school tomorrow,” Lilly said.

Earlier in the day, teachers on the picket line outside CPS headquarters were mostly optimistic that they would be back in school Wednesday morning.

“In our meetings yesterday, it’s apparent we’re optimistic that we will return,” said Mary Mark, a CPS speech language pathologist, who fears that if the union is on strike much longer, support for the teachers will shift.

“We realize that by going out, we’re diminishing our power, but on the other hand, we don’t want to strike so long that we turn the tide of support. We all need to get back to work and the kids need to get back in school,” Mark said.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and the union’s other top brass had spent months fueling their membership’s anger through street marches, meeting sit-ins and hostile rhetoric as negotiations for a new contract have dragged on.

But curbing that vitriol enough to seal a deal was a big challenge for Lewis.

While presenting a framework of a tentative contract with the Chicago Public Schools board Sunday, Lewis was confronted with questions, disappointment and some frustration from delegation members, who demanded more time to review the proposal before ending the CTU’s walkout.

The union entered contract talks last fall demanding a nearly 30 percent salary increase over two years, largely for working a significantly longer school day this year. An arbitrator later bolstered their argument, suggesting that teachers deserved a 19 percent salary bump this year. The same report acknowledged that a steep wage increase is unrealistic with the district’s anticipated $1 billion deficit next year.

But teachers, now offered a 3 percent base salary raise for next year and 2 percent raises after that, are wondering what happened.

“I think some of the delegates would be against Karen no matter what she said,” said union delegate Juan Cardenas. “Many teachers have had their hopes built so high, it’s hard to bring them back down to reality.”

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