The 25,000 or so public school teachers in the Chicago area went on strike on Monday, after contract negotiations did not end how they wanted. This is the first time in more than twenty-five years that a Chicago teachers strike has occurred. Contract talks were taking place on Sunday, but teachers and officials were not able to “reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike,” says Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.
The issue apparently isn’t about money as much as it is other factors. Chicago’s public school teachers make $71,000 a year on average. The problems that are preventing the two sides from reaching an agreement are issues on teacher performance and how they are held accountable, which teachers saw as a major threat to the security of their positions. This is certainly logical. Even if the other issues are resolved to their satisfaction, the fact that they could lose their jobs at any time could certainly be a cause for concern.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the decision to continue with the labor strike disappointing. “I am disappointed that we have come to this point, given that even all the other parties acknowledge how close we are because this is a strike of choice,” Emanuel said. “Because of how close we are, it is a strike that is unnecessary.”
David Vitale, the President of the Chicago Board of Education says that he believes that officials made the best offer possible to teachers who are now striking. “There’s only so much money in the system. There’s only so many things that we can do that are available to us,” Vitale said. “At this juncture, it is clearly their decision. … We’ve done everything we can.”
“We are not far apart on compensation, however we are apart on benefits,” Lewis continued. “We want to maintain the existing health benefits.”
The proposal that is the main barrier to a successful resolution is for an evaluation process that could mean the end of a career for more than 6000 teachers in the area, which is nearly a third of them. The new evaluation system takes student test scores into account. This seems a poor way to test teachers, as a number of factors can affect a student’s performance on a test – namely the motivation of a particular student, the material the teacher is given to teach, and the subject. It is, in essence, a very good motivation for the Chicago teachers strike.