Delegates for the Chicago Teachers Union voted Tuesday to call off their seven-day strike, sending some 350,000 public schools students back to class Wednesday morning and ending the daily scene of teachers dressed in red picketing their schools.
The overwhelming vote by the union’s 800 delegates paves the way for CTU’s entire membership to approve a contract in the coming weeks that will secure them a double-digit salary increase over the next three years, including raises for cost of living while maintaining other increases for experience and advanced education.
Though the union did not achieve the 30 percent base raise it initially sought, CTU President Karen Lewis claimed several victories.
She argued that the union had successfully rejected Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s attempts to institute merit pay, fought off more stringent requirements in a new teacher evaluation system and secured a recall policy for top-performing teachers who are laid off because of school closings.
“We feel very positive about moving forward,” Lewis said. “We feel grateful that we have a united union, and that when a union moves together, amazing things happen.”
For Emanuel, the vote draws to a close a standoff that had dragged into a second week and garnered national attention focused on not only the strike’s merits but the mayor’s role in it.
In the tentative agreement, Emanuel solidified his No. 1 reform objective of lengthening what had been one of the nation’s shortest school days and year.
The mayor also managed to secure a deal that gives teachers smaller raises than they had received under their previous five-year contract, maintains principals’ right to determine which teachers will be hired and institutes, for the first time, a teacher evaluation system set out by state law that takes into account student performance.
“This settlement is an honest compromise. It means returning our schools to their primary purpose: the education of our children,” Emanuel said.
“In this contract, we gave our children a seat at the table. In past negotiations, taxpayers paid more, but our kids got less. This time, our taxpayers are paying less, and our kids are getting more.”
While the mayor calmly delivered his prepared remarks Tuesday night in the library of Walter Payton College Prep, he had shown his share of frustration through a yearlong fight with the union.
That included directing CPS and city attorneys on Monday to file a lawsuit seeking an injunction that would send teachers back to school. A Cook County judge had set a hearing for Wednesday, waiting for the outcome of the union’s vote.
But Lewis and union delegates said the potential for a judge to control the fate of their strike had no factor in Tuesday’s decision.
Once the hundreds of delegates were packed into a union hall near Chinatown, their only focus was on the details of the deal and why they should support it.
First, a handful of union leaders took the stage in the auditorium, explaining specific provisions of the contract proposal, said delegate Haley Underwood. Then members of the union’s bargaining team explained that even though some teachers in their own schools still wanted to strike, the entire team had decided it was time to end the walkout.
Vice President Jesse Sharkey followed with more persuasion, then came the closing act: Lewis.
The tough-talking union boss had five words for her fellow teachers, Underwood said.
“It’s time to go back.”
Delegates were then asked, on a voice vote, whether they wanted to suspend the strike.
They responded by shouting, “Yes!” in an overwhelming majority.
After the vote, a crowd of teachers rushed out the doors, shouting, “We’re back!” and “The strike is over!”
“I am jumping up and down,” said Underwood, a physical education teacher at Cardenas Elementary School in Little Village. “I’m so excited, excited to see my kids. I feel we won. The unity we gained is going to move us forward, and we’ll continue to fight for the soul of public education.”