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Chicago Union Strike LIVE: 30,000 Teachers Walk Out of School Over Rahm Emanuel Policies

Another public union battle has exploded into a major political debate.

Chicago teachers went on strike Monday for the first time in 25 years after their union and district officials failed to reach a contract agreement, despite intense weekend negotiations that the union said were productive but still failed to adequately address issues such as job security and teacher evaluations.

The educators have been locked in a struggle with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration over reforms to city education Emanuel wants to implement. The strikes have started just as the new school year has begun.

Close to 30,000 Chicago teachers went on strike in the nation’s third largest school district, according to their union.

 “We have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike,” said Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis on Sunday. “In the morning no CTU members will be inside our schools.”

The two sides in the negotiation were not far apart on compensation, but were on other issues, including health benefits — teachers want to keep what they have now — and a new teacher evaluation system based partly on students' standardized test scores, according to the Associated Press. It is estimated that 350,000 students will be affected.

Both Emanuel and union officials have much at stake. The walkout comes at a time when unions and collective bargaining by public employees have come under criticism in many parts of the country, and all sides are closely monitoring who might emerge with the upper hand in the Chicago dispute.

The timing also may be inopportune for Emanuel, a former White House chief of staff whose city administration is wrestling with a spike in murders and shootings in some city neighborhoods and who just agreed to take a larger role in fundraising for President Barack Obama's re-election campaign.

School officials said they will open more than 140 schools between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. so children can eat lunch and breakfast in a district where many students receive free meals. The district asked community organizations to provide additional programs for students, and a number of churches, libraries and other groups plan to offer day camps and other activities. But it's not clear how many families will send their children to the added programs.

PolicyMic will be providing LIVE news and updates as they come. Bookmark and refresh this page for all the updates. 

12:45 p.m. Mitt Romney Weighs In:

The Chicago teachers union battle could possibly end up being the next big election 2012 issue. 

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Monday made the following statement on the strike by the Chicago Teachers Union:

“I am disappointed by the decision of the Chicago Teachers Union to turn its back on not only a city negotiating in good faith but also the hundreds of thousands of children relying on the city’s public schools to provide them a safe place to receive a strong education. Teachers unions have too often made plain that their interests conflict with those of our children, and today we are seeing one of the clearest examples yet. President Obama has chosen his side in this fight, sending his Vice President last year to assure the nation’s largest teachers union that ‘you should have no doubt about my affection for you and the President’s commitment to you.’ I choose to side with the parents and students depending on public schools to give them the skills to succeed, and my plan for education reform will do exactly that.”

Chicago teachers went on strike Monday for the first time in 25 years after their union and district officials failed to reach a contract agreement, despite intense weekend negotiations that the union said were productive but still failed to adequately address issues such as job security and teacher evaluations.

The educators have been locked in a struggle with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration over reforms to city education Emanuel wants to implement. The strikes have started just as the new school year has begun.

Close to 30,000 Chicago teachers went on strike in the nation’s third largest school district, according to their union.

Enter Romney. 

It's become clear that Republicans are looking to recreate some of the magic that helped them win in this summer Wisconsin recall election, which saw the conservative anti-public union Governor Scott Walker prevail against pro-union forces.

Some Republicans believe that the key to winning election 2012 hinges on using the same strategies — and policies — Walker used in the lead-up to his June 5 recall election. Since Walker championed an end to public unions, more conservative politicians have pushed his policies in their own states. Anti-public union policies have sprung up in states like Ohio, California, and Tennessee. Some analysts have thought that anti-public union policies would become the trademark of the Romney-Ryan campaign. 

public-sector trade union (or public-sector labor union) is a trade union which primarily represents the interests of employees within public sector (government-owned, supported or regulated) organizations. Public sector unions have become some of the larger or more influential unions in certain areas of the world in recent times due to easier corporate opposition to private-sector unions.

Such unions are highly controversial among conservatives who advocate for the downsizing of the public sector and blame public sector unions for running up large state deficits.

10:15 a.m. PM Economic Expert John Giokaris discusses the downside of unions:

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) went on strike on Monday after a summer-long standoff in which they were demanding a 30% raise from Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system.

After witnessing what Chicago’s mayor, as well as both Democratic and Republican governors of Illinois and Wisconsinhave been dealing with between satisfying organized labor and trying to close widening budget deficits, one has to now examine two questions that have not yet been discussed in the public sphere: Are unions even necessary in America anymore? And have union bosses become greedy?

Juan Williams and Kyle Olsen produced an excellent documentary earlier this year chronicling what Mayor Emanuel has been going through in trying to reform the Chicago public school education system called, “A Tale of Two Missions,” which I highly recommend watching.

 

When Emanuel came into office in May 2011, one of his most ambitious reforms was trying to extend the CPS school day. Until recently, the CPS school day was a mere 5 hours and 45 minutes – ranking last among the 10 largest cities in the U.S.

 

 

Emanuel argued that the city was unfairly “shortchanging” CPS students in instructional time, resulting in fewer future opportunities for them. He proposed extending the elementary school day to 7 hours and 30 minutes.

The CPS, in turn, then demanded a 30% salary raise. Keep in mind that CPS is a system where the average median salary for teachers is $76,450 a year, compared to the $53,976 made by the average private sector employee, where their graduation rate is barely half (55%), and where only 6 out of every 100 children in a system responsible for over 400,000 children will go on to earn a bachelor’s degree by the time they are 26-years-old. A 30% raise would bring the average median salary to around $100,000 for a profession that works 170 days out of the year.

Meanwhile, the CPS system was facing a budget deficit of $665 million in the $5.73 billion 2012-2013 fiscal year. To close it, Emanuel had to raise property taxes to their absolute legal limit, cut costs anywhere possible, and completely drain all its cash reserves. That still left $46 million to give CPS teachers a 2% raise for the longer school day.

Emanuel even scaled back his longer school day proposal from 7 and a half hours to just 7 hours in an effort to negotiate, but CTU boss Karen Lewis wouldn’t budge. So instead, Emanuel decided to hire an additional 477 teachers to fill in the longer school day with programs that are always on the chopping block such as music, art, foreign language, and physical education, which delivered students a longer school day without requiring CPS teachers to work longer hours.

Basically, there is no money left. Yet not only will the CTU not back down from its salary raise demands, but they’re also asking for unprecedented administrative powers that are traditionally reserved for the CPS, including managerial rights, job security guarantees, and a scaling back of teachers evaluations based on standardized test scores.

And they’re holding our students’ futures hostage by striking for the first time in 25 years.

With all the talk from liberal circles of private sector and corporate greed, how come no one has yet discussed public sector union greed? Because that’s what this is.

Meanwhile, Democratic Governor of Illinois, Pat Quinn, has his own problems with unions. Pension costs in Illinois are out of control. The state’s total unfunded pension liability now stands at $203 billion, ranking Illinois as the worst funded pension system in America. Illinois also owes $43.8 billion more than the net value of all its assets combined, also leaving us with the worst deficit in the nation, again due largely to our pension system. This has resulted in Illinois seeing its credit rating cut repeatedly by all major credit rating agencies, ranking us … you guessed it, dead last again in the nation.

 

In an effort to stop the state from drowning in pension debt, Quinn passed the largest tax hike in Illinois history: a 67% increase on all income earners and 46% increase on all businesses – all of which went to our pension system and still wasn’t enough to cover last year’s deficit, let alone any of Illinois’ other outstanding bills.

Quinn then proposed modest reforms to fix the system and extend its longevity, including: increasing public employee contributions by 3%, reducing the automatic annual cost-of-living increase in retirement, and increasing the retirement age to 67 for current employees, among others. According to Quinn, we could have our pension system 100% funded within the next generation by passing these reforms.

Not so fast, says the Illinois AFL-CIO boss Michael Carrigan, who on behalf of a coalition of unions, called the plan an endorsement of “unfair and unconstitutional cuts.”

Illinois unions have persistently protested and heckled Quinn all summer long for trying to fix our pension system, even chasing him all the way to Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention.

After trying everything else, Quinn has nowhere left to go but to ask for some sacrifice from the people he has protected most in this state (and his voter base): the public sector unions. But they’re still fighting him every step of the way and won’t give up anything.

Meanwhile, north of the Illinois border, we all remember what Republican Governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker went through in passing his “Repair the Budget” bill, which reformed collective bargaining rights so that public sector employees contribute more for their own benefits (specifically, 5.8% toward their pensions and 12% toward their health care coverage – about HALF the private sector national average). The results have seen Wisconsin turn a $3.6 billion budget deficit into a $154 million surplusbalancing its budget for the first time in 30 years.

What’s more interesting, though, is what has happened to union membership in Wisconsin since passing CBA reform. Wisconsin membership in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) — the state’s second-largest public sector union after the National Education Association (NEA), which represents teachers — fell to 28,745 in February 2012 from 62,818 in March 2011.

Let me repeat that: After Walker passed CBA reform, the state public sector employee union contracted by more than 50%! The Wisconsin affiliate of the NEA has declined to comment on any membership change.

A provision of the Walker law that eliminated automatic dues collection is what hurt union membership. When a public sector contract expires, the state now stops automatically collecting dues from the affected workers’ paychecks unless they say they want those dues taken out. In many cases, the union dropped members from its rolls after it failed to get them to affirm they want dues collected.

So let me get this straight; when rank-and-file public sector union members are finally presented with an opportunity (or more like given the right) to break away from their union bosses and keep more of their own paycheck, they are evidently doing so in droves. Today, just one in eight American workers is a union member compared with more than one in three in the mid-1950s.

If that’s the case, then as I stated in the beginning, we must now ask ourselves two questions: Have unions outlasted their necessity? And have union bosses become greedy? I believe the events we are witnessing in Illinois and Wisconsin answer those questions loud and clear.

9:45 a.m. PolicyMic Pundit and former Teach For America member Edward Williams, reports on the crisis:

Late Sunday evening, the Chicago Public School Teachers Union announced that it failed to reach an agreement with the Chicago Public School System (CPS). CPS is responsible for approximately 400,000 students and employs nearly 25,000 teachers. As of Monday morning, only 45,000 of the students will be receiving instruction, and they are all charter school students. Another 150,000 students will be housed in schools where no instruction will take place and the remainder, over 200,000 students, will be left to whatever ends their guardians can come up with to accommodate them. Needless to say that in a city where the murder rate among youth is abnormally high, this is a crisis for the city of Chicago and Chicago’s kids. 

According to flyers being distributed by the Chicago Public School Teachers Union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), CPS threatens to increase class size to 55 students, refuses to provide necessary social services, refuses to invest in low-income schools, won’t give teachers a fair contract, and wants to continue charter school expansion. Alternatively, the President of CPS, David Vitale, has declared that the negotiations included a 16% raise over four years for the average teacher. 

The undercurrent to the strike is Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s school reform efforts. He has pushed to increase the school year by 10 additional days and 1.5 hours per day, adding more than 300 hours of additional instruction to the school year. It is no secret that like every school system in the country right now, Chicago Public Schools is strapped for cash. The basic claim is that the school system wants more from teachers without giving more in return. Unfortunately, no one is discussing the real issue in Chicago: Students are not learning.

According to a National Council on Teacher Quality report, of the school systems currently in their database, Chicago Public Schools has the fourth highest starting salary at $49,159 and the second highest salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s and 5 years experience at $62,141. The average pay for teachers in Chicago Public Schools is $74,839. But, the average pay at Urban Prep Academy, the Chicago-based charter school that has sent 100% of its graduates to college for the third consecutive year is $71,236. While the Chicago Teacher’s Union is trying to make the case to slow or halt charter expansion, figures like the salary differential and the fact that Urban Prep students will be at school learning tomorrow demonstrate an issue with their position.

Mayor Emanuel is on to something in school reform, at least as far as it concerns longer school days and more instructional time. The fact that the teacher’s union is fighting his reform initiatives may be an additional indicator that he is on the right track. As for the upcoming strike period, Chicago will likely see a murder and violent crimes spike, parents will do their best to mitigate the consequences of this strike, and students will lose as adults continue to fight about the wrong things.

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