Chicago - Thousands of striking Chicago public school teachers
packed a city park Saturday in a show of force as union leaders and the
district tried to work out the details of a tentative agreement that
would end a week-long walkout.
Months of contract negotiations came down to two main
issues: job security and union opposition to a new teacher evaluation
process it felt was too heavily weighted on student test scores. The
wrangling in one of the nation's largest school districts was being
closely watched around the country because of its implications for other
labor disputes at a time when unions have been losing ground.
Union leaders who announced a framework for a deal on
Friday said they would not end the strike - the first walkout by
teachers in Chicago in 25 years - until they see an agreement in
writing. Saturday's talks were aimed at settling on that exact language,
and both sides were hopeful that children could be back in class on
Addressing demonstrators Saturday, the Rev. Jesse
Jackson, a civil rights leader, said "the struggle is not over" and
there was still a long road to ensuring all residents of the city have
equal access to quality schools, especially in neighborhoods beset by
gang violence and poverty.
"Our mission is very clear: we fight for equal,
high-quality public education for all," Jackson said. "When school opens
again there will be 160 schools without a public library. ... When
school opens again, there will be schools yet without books. So we fight
today for schools on the South and West Side to look like schools on
the North Side."
Saturday's talks were taking place at the offices of
union attorney Robert Bloch, who told the Chicago Sun-Times there was
still a lot of work to be done, although the sides had agreed on the
most contentious issues.
The union hopes to present the wording of a deal to its
House of Delegates for review on Sunday. If they approve it, students
could be back in class on Monday.
On his way into the talks, Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey was optimistic that timetable was still possible.
Union members from Wisconsin, Minnesota and elsewhere
joined Saturday's rally in solidarity, and speaker after speaker said
the labor fight in Chicago was important for unions everywhere.
Reflecting the optimism of the past few days, the gathering also had a
festive atmosphere, with people pounding drums and grilling hot dogs,
and children playing.
"People are going to go down and celebrate that the
teachers union in Chicago stood up to the corporate reform agenda," said
Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers' Education
Association. "I think they've come out with some real victories for the
kids of Chicago."
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has blasted the union
for engaging in a "strike of choice," sounded optimistic Friday, saying
"the tentative framework is an honest and principled compromise that is
about who we all work for: the students."
The walkout in the nation's third-largest school
district canceled five days of class for more than 350,000 public school
students who had just returned from summer vacation.
Until this week, Chicago teachers had not walked out since 1987, when they were on strike for 19 days.
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