Weeklong Chicago teachers strike continues

Mayor says the issues are ‘non-strikable’

Philomena Johnson, a delegate from Little Village Academy, decorates her vehicle with teachers’ demands for increased social services in schools before attending a Sunday afternoon meeting of the Chicago Teachers Union delegates. Enlarge photo

Sitthixay Ditthavong/Associated Press

Philomena Johnson, a delegate from Little Village Academy, decorates her vehicle with teachers’ demands for increased social services in schools before attending a Sunday afternoon meeting of the Chicago Teachers Union delegates.

CHICAGO – The Chicago teachers union decided Sunday to continue its weeklong strike, extending an acrimonious standoff with Mayor Rahm Emanuel over teacher evaluations and job-security provisions central to the debate about the future of public education across the United States.

Emanuel said he would seek a court order to end the strike, which he said is illegal under state law.

Union delegates declined to formally vote on a proposed contract settlement worked out through the weekend with officials from the nation’s third largest school district. Schools will remain closed today.

Union president Karen Lewis said teachers want the opportunity to continue to discuss the offer that is on the table.

“Our members are not happy,” Lewis said. “They want to know if there is anything more they can get.”

She added: “They feel rushed.”

She said the union’s delegates will meet again Tuesday, and the soonest classes are likely to resume is Wednesday.

“We felt more comfortable being able to take back what’s on the table and let our constituents look at it and digest it. We can have a much better decision come Tuesday,” said Dean Refakes, a physical education teacher at Gompers Elementary School and a delegate.

Emanuel said the issues teachers are striking over are “deemed by state law to be non-strikable.”

“This was a strike of choice and is now a delay of choice that is wrong for our children,” he said in a written statement.

The walkout, the first in Chicago in 25 years, had instantly canceled classes for 350,000 students who just returned from summer vacation and forced tens of thousands of parents to find alternatives for idle children, including many whose neighborhoods have been wracked by gang violence in recent months.

The walkout was the first for a major American city in at least six years. And it drew national attention because it posed a high-profile test for teachers unions, which have seen their political influence threatened by a growing reform movement. Unions have pushed back against efforts to expand charter schools, bring in private companies to help with failing schools and link teacher evaluations to student test scores.

The strike carried political implications, too, raising the risk of a protracted labor battle in President Barack Obama’s hometown at the height of the fall campaign, with a prominent Democratic mayor and Obama’s former chief of staff squarely in the middle. Emanuel’s forceful demands for reform had angered the teachers last year as the cash-strapped city began bargaining with a number of unions.

The teachers walked out Sept. 10 after months of tense contract talks that for a time appeared to be headed toward a peaceful resolution.

Emanuel and the union agreed in July on a deal to implement a longer school day with a plan to hire back 477 teachers who had been laid off rather than pay regular teachers more to work longer hours. That raised hopes the contract would be settled before the start of fall classes, but bargaining stalled on other issues.

Almost from the beginning, the two sides couldn’t even agree on whether they were close to a deal. Emanuel said an agreement was within easy reach and could be sealed with school in session. The union insisted that dozens of issues remained unresolved.