Chicago braces for first teacher strike in a generation

September 8, 2012

By James B. Kelleher, Reuters

CHICAGO | A bitter dispute between unionized public school teachers and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has residents of the third-largest U.S. city bracing for a possible teachers’ strike on Monday in a showdown over education reform that has national implications.

Nearly 30,000 public school teachers and support staff represented by the Chicago Teachers Union have vowed to walk off the job starting at 12:01 a.m. (0401 GMT) on Monday if an impasse in contract talks with the city is not broken.

Emanuel, a former White House chief of staff to President Barack Obama and a speaker at this week’s Democratic National Convention, has made reform of Chicago’s troubled public schools a top priority. Emanuel cut short his trip to the convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, to deal with the teacher crisis.

Earlier this year, he pushed through a longer school day, but the union is opposed to other proposed reforms, including tougher teacher evaluations tied to student test scores and giving principals wide latitude in hiring.

The union also wants more than the 8 percent pay raise over four years that Chicago is offering. The school district says it cannot afford concessions as it is running a large budget deficit and major credit rating agencies have downgraded its debt rating.

The threatened walkout, the first in Chicago in 25 years and one of the largest labor actions nationwide in recent years, comes at an awkward time for Emanuel’s former boss, President Barack Obama, who spent much of his adult life in Chicago and owns a house in the city.

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