Although the Chicago Teachers Union has not yet made it official, Mayor Rahm Emanuel acted as if it was a fait accompli that the threat of Chicago’s second teachers strike in four years had been lifted — at least until fall.
“The good news is, they agreed not to strike. And I compliment Jesse Sharkey for his comment that there’s not a mood there among teachers,” the mayor said Monday.
Sharkey, the CTU’s vice president, told the Chicago Sun-Times that teachers are leaning away from going out on strike later this month, when the law first allows them. The House of Delegates, the union’s body authorized to set a strike date, will meet Wednesday to discuss possible plans, but Sharkey and other CTU members have said that union members worry about losing health insurance and their last paychecks of the year before summer.
The union, which would have been hard-pressed to rally parents citywide to back them so close to the end of classes, also wants to let some school-related bills in Springfield work through the legislative system.
In a statement released Monday, the CTU reiterated that its members still have to decide if they want to walk picket lines, and if so, when. State law requires them to give 10 days’ notice.
“The city has the money to avert the crisis in our schools. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his hand-picked members of the Chicago Board of Education would rather take their fiscal woes out on the hides of educators and other school employees,” union spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said in a news release. “This is unacceptable. The union’s members have yet to decide when or if we will go on strike in the coming days or during the next school year.”
Union members also are being asked to wear CTU’s signature red on Fridays to show solidarity.
The mayor also issued a direct appeal to the same leaders of a CTU that recruited and bankrolled the campaign of failed mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia after a brain tumor forced union president Karen Lewis to drop out of the race.
“You have spent years telling people about the discrimination that exists in Illinois funding as it relates to children of poverty. For the first time, there’s an acknowledgment that Illinois, as it comes to funding education and specifically poor children, has its priorities upside-down. And a lot of that credit goes to leadership of the teachers union and others,” Emanuel said.
“Take this moment with the remaining 29 days in Springfield,” he said. “There will be funding for education. Use your political energy to get the ball over the goal line here so we can actually get funding for education of children coming from homes of poverty and we do not allow Illinois to continue to penalize school districts and children that have a preponderance of poverty.”
Emanuel was asked what has changed internally at the CTU. Why does he believe the union is lifting the threat of a year-end strike and postponing a walkout until the fall?
“I don’t know. What I do is I welcome it. Because I don’t think we should be talking about a strike. We should be talking about finishing the year and building on the educational success of our teachers and our students,” the mayor said, noting that Miami-Dade, Washington, D.C., and Chicago were the only school districts that saw fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math scores rise on a recent standardized test.
Emanuel then reiterated his statistical argument: Chicago has 20 percent of Illinois’ students but receives only 15 percent of state funding for education.
“Let us use this reprieve. No more talk of strike. Focus on finishing the year educationally strong for our kids. They only have one shot. And let’s as leaders use our time to convince the state of Illinois to stop getting an ‘F’ when it comes to funding education and not allow them to get another ‘F’ this year when it comes to funding education for poor kids,” he said.
“We deserve to give them our backing and our support so they do well rather than continue to be held down with inadequate funding that comes from the state of Illinois, specifically if you are a child of poverty,” he said.
Emanuel also was asked whether the nearly bankrupt school system has the money to pay teachers their final paycheck of the school year — and still make a $676 million payment to the teachers pension fund due on June 30.
“Yes, we have that,” he said, without offering specifics.