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Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis: "Victory for Education" Comes from Strike

Chicago public school students returned to class Wednesday after the governing body of the Chicago Teachers Union voted to suspend its nine-day strike, the first teachers’ strike in Chicago since 1987.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in Chicago as part of our 100-city election 2012 tour. Chicago public school students are returning to classes after the governing body of the Chicago Teachers Union voted to suspend its nine-day strike, the first teachers’ strike in Chicago since 1987. The decision came after hours of closed-door talks among union members who had asked for time to review details of their proposed new contract. Union President Karen Lewis spoke to reporters shortly after the vote.

KAREN LEWIS: We are trying to have people understand that when people come together to deal with problems of education, the people that are actually working in the schools need to be heard. And I think that this has been an opportunity for people across the nation to have their voices heard. And I think we’re moving in the right direction.

AMY GOODMAN: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel framed the end of the strike as a victory for the city’s children. This came after he sought a court injunction to force an end to the walkout. Following Tuesday’s vote, Mayor Emanuel said the new contract could bring welcome changes to the city’s public schools.

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: This settlement is an honest compromise. It means returning our schools to their primary purpose, the education of our children. It means a new day and a new direction for the Chicago public schools. In this contract, we gave our children a seat at the table. In past negotiations, taxpayers paid more, but our kids got less. This time, our taxpayers are paying less, and our kids are getting more. Because of the past contracts, teachers and principals had to make false choices about where they spent their time, because there was so little of it. This contract is a break with past practices and brings a fundamental change that benefits our children.

We have been discussing the need for more school time as a city for over a decade but lacked the ability to achieve our primary educational goal. We have been discussing the need for more reading and more recess, for more science and sports, for more math and music, geometry and gym. For as long as I can remember, we’ve been discussing that. Each time, it was postponed or rejected because the changes were considered too difficult. Today, that era and those false choices come to an end.

AMY GOODMAN: Since the 800 delegates of the Chicago Teachers Union voted overwhelmingly to suspend the strike, the agreement will now go before the entire membership. The deal calls for a double-digit salary increase over the next three years, including raises for cost of living, while maintaining other increases for experience and advanced education. This is teacher and union delegate Adam Heenan, who voted to end the walkout.

ADAM HEENAN: I feel like we got something that we can go back to the classroom with dignity with. We didn’t win as much on fair compensation, but we have positions that are going back—arts positions, PE positions. We have a promise to hire a hundred more support staff and social workers, psychologists. We have an anti-bullying clause. You know, anti-workplace bullying is something that, you know, even our mayor is joining in on. And I think that we’re going to go back being able to be advocates for better classroom conditions. We have a parents’ member on each class-size panel. Even though, you know, we fought on class sizes, that was some of the non-permissible material. We fought off merit pay. There’s no merit pay in our system. We were able to fight back on a—on the Performance Evaluation Reform Act, that was designed to get rid of 6,000 union members in two years, and kind of reinventing seniority. I feel really good right now.

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