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Chicago Teachers Return to Work After Union Agreement

by Mike Chirillo, published
Credit: Chicago Tribune

The Chicago Teachers Union voted late Tuesday to return to work this morning, ending its first seven-day strike in a quarter of a century. The oral vote resulted in 98% of the union in favor of a new tentative agreement after a contentious Monday when Mayor Rahm Emanuel petitioned a court order to end the strike based on illegality.

Initially expected to end by Monday, the Union decided to extend the strike in order to thoroughly examine every detail in the Chicago Public Schools' proposal. The observance of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, was also cited as a reason for the delay.

"We said it was time," Union President Karen Lewis was quoted in the New York Times, "that we couldn't solve all the problems of the world with just one contract, and that it was time to suspend the strike."

Bred from a plethora of issues -- from hiring procedures, to lengthened school day, to a lack of air conditioners in classrooms -- the tentative agreement does not solve all of the union's reservations. "There is no such thing as a contract that is going to make all of us happy," Lewis said. Mayor Emanuel's lengthened school day will be salvaged, as will teacher evaluations. The evaluations, however, will rely less on student test scores, which was a major point of contention for the CTU. A committee consisting of both CTU and Chicago Public Schools personnel will review the teacher evaluation process.

There were some unexpected perks included in the proposal. Under the plan, teachers will now have the freedom to create their own lesson plans. In the event of school closures, teachers will also be able to follow their students to a new school. Teachers will receive a 7% raise in the first 3 years of their contract, with an option of a 4th year at 3%. This is a far cry from the 30% raise originally sought by the union.

"This settlement is an honest compromise," Emanuel said, "it means returning our schools to its primary purpose -- education for our children."

Although not officially ratified, the contract is expected is to be approved by the remaining 26,000 union members.

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