MEDIA WATCH: Coverage of the end of the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012

There was a traffic jam on Grove Street, with more TV trucks than are seen outside some National Football League games. And more than 100 reporters waited on a cool sunny afternoon while inside the building nearly 800 Chicago Teachers Union delegates met to hear a report from their leaders about the contract that had been in negotiations for ten months, and which they had been on strike over for seven school days. When the vote was finally taken to suspend the strike, the delegates began leaving and were literally swarmed by reporters. "Please help me," said one young lady with a microphone (trailed by a camera man) when rebuffed by a group of delegates who did not want to speak with a corporate media the majority of teachers view as hostile.

More than 700 CTU delegates and more than 100 union members (who could attend the meeting as "visitors") streamed out of the Operating Engineers union hall in Chicago after the historic vote to end the seven-day Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012. As the delegates came out, more than 100 reporters and technicians swarmed around them trying to get stories. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The coverage was mixed, with much of the hostility showing early and continuing. Reporters continued to repeat the CPS claim of a $700 million "deficit" (a claim that was already untrue, according to CPS quarterly financial statements available to the public by the time of the strike) and the claim by Mayor Rahm Emanuel that Chicago's public schools had had the shortest school day in the USA before his reforms forced a change in that. Many reporters were unable to ignore the fact that the majority of parents — including CTU members who are parents — were supporting the strike from beginning to end.

"Parent hostility..." finally took a strange turn during the final days of the strike when a group of parents, some of whom are employees of The Wall Street Journal (and their children), became a parent group that picketed the union's offices holding neatly printed signs attacking the union for holding children "hostage." As usual, some of the most interesting comments came from bloggers who had long catered to the claims of the corporate "school reform" crowd.

At, a blog sponsored by the Chicago Tribune, Alexander Russo headlined "Stupid Strike Ends." Russo's reports his blog from Brooklyn, which is no more a problem for the Tribune than the outsourced "news" it was publishing from "Journatic" until National Public Radio blew the whistle on the deal a month ago.


Chicago Teachers Strike Ends: Union Moves To Suspend Strike After 7 Days By SOPHIA TAREEN and TAMMY WEBBER 09/18/12 09:20 PM ET

Striking Chicago public school teachers picket outside of the Jose De Diego Community Academy on September 17, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. More than 26,000 teachers and support staff walked off of their jobs on September 10 after the Chicago Teachers Union failed to reach an agreement with the city on compensation, benefits and job security. With about 350,000 students, the Chicago school district is the third largest in the United States.

CHICAGO — Teachers agreed Tuesday to return to the classroom after more than a week on the picket lines in Chicago, ending a combative stalemate with Mayor Rahm Emanuel over evaluations and job security, two issues at the heart of efforts to reform the nation's public schools.

Union delegates voted overwhelmingly to suspend the strike after discussing a proposed contract settlement that had been on the table for days. Classes were to resume Wednesday.

Jubilant delegates poured out of a South Side union hall singing a song called "Solidarity Forever," honking horns and yelling, "We're going back." Most were eager to get to work and proud of a walkout that yielded results.

"I'm very excited. I miss my students. I'm relieved because I think this contract was better than what they offered," said America Olmedo, who teaches fourth- and fifth-grade bilingual classes. "They tried to take everything away."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the settlement "an honest compromise" that "means a new day and a new direction for the Chicago public schools."

He said the talks achieved goals that had eluded the district for more than a decade, including an extension of the school day, which had been among the nation's shortest, and a new teacher evaluation system.

"In past negotiations, taxpayers paid more, but our kids got less. This time, our taxpayers are paying less, and our kids are getting more," the mayor said, referring to provisions in the deal that he says will cut costs.

Union leaders pointed to concessions by the city on how closely teacher evaluations would be tied to student test scores and to better opportunities for teachers to retain their jobs if schools are closed by budget cuts.

The walkout, the first in Chicago in 25 years, shut down the nation's third-largest school district just days after 350,000 students had returned from summer vacation. Tens of thousands of parents were forced to find alternatives for idle children, including many whose neighborhoods have been wracked by gang violence in recent months.

Union President Karen Lewis said the union's 700-plus delegates responded to a voice vote with an estimated 98 percent in favor of reopening the schools.

"We said that we couldn't solve all the problems of the world with one contract," Lewis said. "And it was time to end the strike."

Tuesday's vote was not on the contract offer itself, but on whether to continue the strike. The contract will now be submitted to a vote by the full membership of more than 25,000 teachers.

The walkout was the first for a major American city in at least six years. And it drew national attention because it posed a high-profile test for teachers unions, which have seen their political influence threatened by a growing reform movement. Unions have pushed back against efforts to expand charter schools, use private companies to help with failing schools and link teacher evaluations to student test scores.

Chicago teachers took pride in the display of union muscle. Said elementary teacher Shay Porter: "We ignited the labor movement in Chicago."

The strike carried political implications, too, raising the risk of a protracted labor battle in President Barack Obama's hometown at the height of the fall campaign, with a prominent Democratic mayor and Obama's former chief of staff squarely in the middle. Emanuel's forceful demands for reform have angered the teachers.

The teachers walked out Sept. 10 after months of tense contract talks that for a time appeared to be headed toward a peaceful resolution.

Emanuel and the union agreed in July on a deal to implement the longer school day with a plan to hire back 477 teachers who had been laid off rather than pay regular teachers more to work longer hours. That raised hopes the contract would be settled before the start of fall classes, but bargaining stalled on other issues.

Emanuel decried the teachers' decision to leave classrooms, calling the walkout unnecessary and a "strike of choice."

Chicago's long history as a union stronghold seemed to work to the teachers' advantage. As they walked the picket lines, they were joined by many of the very people who were most inconvenienced by the work stoppage: parents who had to scramble to find babysitters or a supervised place for children to pass the time.

To win friends, the union engaged in something of a publicity campaign, telling parents repeatedly about problems with schools and the barriers that have made it more difficult to serve their kids. They described classrooms that are stifling hot without air conditioning, important books that are unavailable and supplies as basic as toilet paper that are sometimes in short supply.

Wilonda Cannon, a single mother in North Lawndale, a West Side neighborhood beset by gang shootings and poverty, was relieved to know her two youngest kids would be returning to their grammar school after spending much of the strike in the care of their grandfather.

Cannon hoped the deal would "get all the schools, or at least some of them, to a place where the atmosphere is more conducive to learning" and that it would put "more support structures in place for both the students and the teachers."

As the strike entered its second week, Emanuel turned to the courts, filing a lawsuit to force teachers to come back to work.

The clash upended a district in which the vast majority of students are poor and minority. Administrators staffed more than 140 schools with non-union workers so students who are dependent on school-provided meals would have a place to eat breakfast and lunch.

When the two sides met at the bargaining table, money was only part of the problem. With an average salary of $76,000, Chicago teachers are already among the highest-paid in the nation. The district's final proposal included an average 7 percent raise over three years, with additional raises for experience and education.

But the evaluations and job security measures stirred the most intense debate.

The union said the evaluation system was unfair because it relied too heavily on test scores and did not take into account outside factors that affect student performance such as poverty, violence and homelessness.

The union also pushed for a policy to give laid-off teachers first dibs on open jobs anywhere in the district. The district said that would prevent principals from hiring the best-qualified teachers.

When he took office last year, Emanuel inherited a school district facing a $700 million budget shortfall. Not long after, his administration rescinded 4 percent raises for teachers.


‘Tremendous victories’: Details of the teachers contract By Lauren FitzPatrick Staff Reporter September 19, 2012 7:26AM

The tentative agreement between the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Board of Education has been about a year in the making.

Heated negotiations led to the city’s first teacher strike in 25 years. Tuesday evening, CTU delegates voted to suspend the strike on its seventh day, allowing 350,000 CPS students to return to class Wednesday. Union members still have to ratify the contract.

“We have tremendous victories in this contract,” the CTU said in a contract summary it sent to delegates, “however, it is by no means perfect.”

Here’s what’s in it.

Added cost

$295 million over four years, or $74 million per year. 2007 contract cost $645 million over five years, or $129 million per year.


Three years, with an optional fourth year. CPS originally sought five-year contract. CTU wanted two years.

3 percent in year one. 2 percent in years two and three. 3 percent if union approves fourth year. No merit pay. Board originally offered a one-time 2 percent raise. Preserves additional raises for extra years of service and education.

Health care

Freeze on health care premiums and copays for members in exchange for participating in a wellness program. Members pay $600 per year for each family member who opts out of the Wellness Program. There is an exception for smokers who won’t have to pay.

Sick pay

Existing sick days may be cashed out at retirement. Up to 40 future unused sick days are pensionable and may be banked for short term disability or maternity, not retirement. New short term disability and maternity benefits pay 100% up to 30 days; 80% next 30 days; 60% for third 30 days.

Time in school

7 hours of elementary students; 71/2 for high school students four days a week and shortened fifth day. 170-day school year expanded to 180 days.


Year-round and traditional school calendars merged into one, district wide. Creates a committee of union and board members to work out details of what new calendar will look like.


Over 600 new full and part-time positions to staff longer school day in subjects such as art, music and PE.


“No stakes” for tenured teachers during the first year. Establishes appeals process for bad ratings. Tops out 70 percent based on teacher practice; 30 percent on student growth in test scores. If union opts to keep contract for fourth year, student growth will count for 35 percent, the district says.

Class size

The district’s policy on class size remains in the contract. And a new “workload” committee gets $500,000 to address understaffing among clinicians, counselors and special education staffers.

Layoffs and recall

12-week payout or 40 weeks in the reassignment pool, half at regular pay, half at cadre substitute pay. Teachers displaced by a school closing who are highly rated can follow their students to their new school if there is an opening. Principals must interview any well-rated applicant from a closed school.

Also: $250 reimbursement for teachers who buy supplies. Text books guaranteed in schools by first day of class. Anti-bullying clause added for first time to prohibit principals from “abusive and demeaning conduct.”

Jane Averill, a preschool teacher at Ray Elementary, said she thought the vote to suspend the strike was partly due to delegates and teachers facing reality. If they would have stayed on strike Wednesday, teachers feared losing public support, she said.

"To go out on strike and to not get things like class size limits, and restrictions on school closings and the creation of charter schools, is kind of heartbreaking," Averill said. "(But) those are things that have to be taken up legislatively."

Both sides claiming wins

When it came to the nitty-gritty of the contract, the union was able to claim several victories — chiefly, that Mayor Rahm Emanuel will have a stake in keeping the union happy. CPS originally wanted a five-year contract that would take CTU out of the picture until well after the next mayoral election.

But the union got CPS to agree to a three-year contract, with an option for a fourth year, if both parties agree. This could put the next contract negotiations right in the middle of the next campaign.

The union also prevailed against merit pay, and got the district to scale back, to the minimum allowed by state law, the percentage of teacher evaluation scores that will be tied to student performance.

And it won a promise of jobs for some teachers displaced by school closings.

CTU also released a fact-sheet claiming additional wins: an agreement by CPS to a monthly meeting on the budget and to outlawing teacher suspensions without pay. CPS also will allow teachers to vote by secret ballot for department heads.

Heenan said a “Christmas present” in the contract was the right for teachers to format their lesson plans in the way they want.

“When that was announced, cheers erupted,” he said, explaining that it takes a lot of extra time to format lesson plans according to the district’s model, and can be antithetical to the way a teacher naturally puts them together.

But CPS also claimed some victories in the battle. At a brief press conference, Emanuel said that for the first time students “were at the table” in the negotiating room.

He touted that the contract includes provisions for the school day and year to be lengthened (though state law gives the district the power to do so on its own). “This gives a kindergartener today two extra years of learning by the time she graduates high school,” he said.

Also, he said the deal was good for taxpayers. As part of the agreement the union will drop its litigation against the Board of Education for rescinding a promised 4 percent raise in 2011. The final teacher salary increase was only 1 percent more than the original offer and will cost the district less than in previous agreements. The union had wanted CPS to agree to forcing principals to hire a displaced teacher when three qualified ones applied for a job. Doing this would amount to taking away a principal’s autonomy, Emanuel argued.

Instead—and this might have been the concession that broke the logjam—CPS agreed that it would try to make sure that half of its new hires would be displaced teachers. If not, then the most senior of the displaced teachers would be kept on for a year as long-term substitutes. Emanuel called the deal an “honest compromise.” But he refused to take questions about how he planned to pay for the raises and other concessions.


Reporting from Brooklyn New York, Chicago Tribune and Education Week blogger Alexander Russo continued the most childish and biased coverage of the union. His first report, based on early news stories from the House of Delegates meeting (800 miles from where he was reporting) was headlined "Stupid Strike." Russo's first coverage follows here:

The HOD has voted to end the strike, as you probably already know by now. Two extra days for ... a cooling off period, I guess. Lewis has spoken. Emanuel still to come.

As with most contract negotiations, both sides got things important to them. At her press conference, Karen Lewis bragged about how CTU didn't have to "take" merit pay like in other cities. Indeed, reformers are disappointed in all the things Emanuel gave up or gave back. (They kept lanes!) In an email, CPS highlighted the extended day and year that Mayor Emanuel had made Priority One. No doubt, there will be some CPS teachers who feel that Lewis and her team didn't get key items they should have fought for.

It was fun to watch, disturbing at times since strikes have become so rare, but always seemed to me to be more of a function of having two firebrand rookies in charge rather than the issues being debated. Personality conflicts between labor and management aren't rare — DC, LA, and NYC have all had it at various times — but it's not required. CPS wasn't proposing something so unusual compared to other cities. Check out this post about Boston and Philly.

As for the larger story, I don't think that Chicago has told us anything more than what we already know from DC and other places -- that firebrands make for great drama but shouldn't be in charge of negotiations. The substantive issues -- including student achievement in teacher evaluations, for example -- don't seem unique to Chicago.

The other shoes have yet to fall: paying for the salary increases, dealing with the 50 or 100 more schools that will have to close do to shrinking enrollment, seeing if CPS and CTU can end their long run heading an under-performing, highly segregated urban school system.


A television ad funded by Education Reform Now features Mayor Rahm Emanuel discussing why the tentative contract with the Chicago Teachers Union is a good deal for students and parents. One of the nice things about Chicago's corporate media is the priorities. If you get tired of reading about schools and Rahm's spin, the next links at CBS are Sexiest NFL Cheerleaders - Week 2, Leo Horrible Horoscope: Read At Your Own Risk, and Best Cupcakes In Chicago: I'm Right (You're Wrong)


Teachers’ Strike Over, But Both Sides Still Working To Spin The Dispute, Reporting Jay Levine

Filed Under

CHICAGO (CBS) – About 357,000 Chicago kids were back in their classrooms Wednesday. So were their teachers. But the shock waves from the nine-day teachers’ strike were still being felt, and not only in Chicago.

CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports Chicago became a beachhead in a much wider battle, with shades of the union fight up north in Wisconsin.

Only, up there, the fight has been about public employee unions in general. In the Chicago area, it’s been teachers’ unions, specifically, with national money pouring in, and both sides playing along.

The Chicago teachers’ strike might be over — with teachers off the picket lines and back in their classrooms — but the battle for the hearts and minds of Chicagoans continues.

A million dollar TV buy put the mayor’s spin all over the airwaves Wednesday. Emanuel discusses the teachers’ contract in the ad, which was funded not by the city or the mayor himself, but by Education Reform Now, a group which has battled teachers’ unions across the country.

“Change is never easy, and this contract certainly wasn’t. But more time in class and more accountability is the right deal for our kids,” Emanuel says in the ad.

At the same time, a group with the website has been trying to raise money to run its own ad, defending Chicago teachers’ fight for smaller class sizes, better supplies, and air conditioning for all schools.

“This isn’t about politics; it’s about my kids, and the kids in Chicago,” one woman says in the ad.

“We’re in this together – teachers, students, parents, we’re united,” another woman says.

A boy in the commercial says, “I’m standing for my teachers, because they’re standing for me.”

But in Chicago, teachers, students, and parents, haven’t exactly been united in their approach to improving schools.

Bishop Larry Trotter, who staged a symbolic “crucifixion” of his own 4-year-old granddaughter on Tuesday to show his frustration with the teachers’ strike and the harm it caused to students, said there seems to be a constant shift in who holds the high ground on school reform – the mayor and the school district, or teachers.

“It’s back and forth. There’s a winner each day,” Trotter said.

Amy Smolensky, a CPS parent and board member of the parent advocacy group “Raise Your Hand,” said the contract fight between CPS and the teachers has “been very confrontational, and that’s why nobody’s coming out shining.”

Wednesday afternoon, after classes resumed at CPS, Mayor Rahm Emanuel defended his hardline stance on implementing a longer school day by the start of this school year.

“I will never back down from fighting for something that I believe, in my core, is essential for the kids; because the kids in the city of Chicago, in my view, have been cheated, and that was wrong,” he said.

Still, after greeting some of the kids returning to school Wednesday morning, the mayor admitted the tentative teachers’ contract wasn’t all he’d hoped for.

“I don’t describe it as a half a loaf. I’ve said … there are educational goals,” he said. “And I don’t believe the other side – meaning teachers’ union leadership – didn’t get some of the things they wanted. Sure. Thats what a negotiation process is. But we never compromised the real educational objectives.”

Emanuel has not yet explained how he plans to pay for the raises for teachers, or how many schools might have to be closed or consolidated to afford the cost of the teachers’ contract. But he’s won praise from elected officials and others, for setting a precedent they’d like to follow.


Emanuel's post-strike agenda filled with more challenges. September 19, 2012

I can't exactly say the "easy part" is over. There was absolutely nothing that was easy for Mayor Rahm Emanuel in reaching a new contract deal with the Chicago Teachers Union.

But the section about the "tough part" now absolutely is true.

Mr. Emanuel finally has his schools deal. But implementing it and dealing with other city unions will be extraordinarily challenging for a mayor whose walking-on-water phase clearly has come to an end.

Let's start with plain old fiscal reality.

Chicago Public Schools have run out of money. The district's 2012-13 budget calls for spending every cent of financial reserves, a reason why the big rating agencies recently downgraded CPS debt.

But now, the district will have to come up with $295 million over the next four years to pay for the deal — assuming the union agrees to a final year and its 3 percent cost-of-living raise, that is.

The district isn't going to get any more money from Springfield. It's already levying its property tax to the cap. With little or no new revenue on the way, the district instead will have to cut spending.

The most obvious way will be to close unneeded schools. Total CPS enrollment has dropped more than 10 percent in recent years and is particularly off in many depopulated African-American neighborhoods.

But I suspect Mr. Emanuel soon will discover that it's darned easy to fire a bad teacher relative to the difficulty of shutting a neighborhood's school.

This fight will be long and bloody. It will require not only strong will — Mr. Emanuel is good on that — but tact, patience and quiet persuasion.

Then there's the task of implementing all of those reforms and changes re: a longer school day, stronger teacher retention standards and principal hiring authority.

Overall, I thought Mr. Emanuel did all right — not great, just all right — on those items. Fortunately for him, some of the new rights he just won were mandated by the Illinois General Assembly. But now all of it has to be implemented amid a maze of what can be one of the world's most stultifying bureaucracies.

Does Team Emanuel have the kind of ability to honcho that implementation on a day-by-day basis? It had better be lest Mr. Emanuel's big-business financial backers — who already are grumbling about aspects of the contract deal — turn more negative.

Then there's prerogative-conscious aldermen.

It didn't get much notice, but eight of them under the banner of the "progressive caucus" released a statement late Tuesday placing themselves solidly on the side of the union and against more charter schools that Mr. Emanuel wants.

"We believe that from the very beginning Chicago's teachers wanted what is best for their students and for our schools," said the group, which includes Aldermen Bob Fioretti (2nd), Leslie Hairston (5th), Rick Munoz (22nd) and Scott Waguespack (32nd). "Their experience and knowledge should be the basis for future improvements to the Chicago Public School System."

I could see a lot more of that kind of attitude soon. Say next month, when Mr. Emanuel unveils his proposed 2013 city budget.

Finally, there are ongoing negotiations with firefighters and police. They've never been pussycats at the bargaining table, and you can bet your strike sign that they've learned something from CTU President Karen Lewis' in-your-face opposition to Rahmbo.

Neither firefighters nor police can strike — officially. But they have lots of ways to make their point, from "blue flu" to slowed response times. And given this year's murder wave, the last thing the mayor needs is a growing perception that Chicago is unsafe.

All that means that the police and firefighters are at least as well-positioned as the teachers to get what they want at the bargaining table. Which means the mayor needs more money — and I won't even get into the need for worker pension reform in Springfield.

Rahm Emanuel wanted the job. To borrow his phrase, he still has a lot to do.

Follow Greg on Twitter at @GregHinz.

Read more: article/20120919/BLOGS02/ 120919728/emanuels-post-strike-agenda-filled-with-more-challenges#ixzz26xc05Xqm


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