The Chicago Teachers Union got a strong turnout for a Wednesday rally downtown that aimed to send a strong message to Mayor Rahm Emanuel concerning teachers' ongoing contract negotiations.
"He stole your 4 percent raise. Then he cussed me out!" Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis exclaimed to a full house of some 4,000 red t-shirt-clad Chicago Public Schools teachers at the Auditorium Theatre, Fox Chicago reports.
After the rally, the teachers took to the streets for a rush-hour march.
At issue for the CTU members are their salaries, the longer school day, resources for their schools, as well as the city's expansion of charter schools while public schools struggle. According to a recent report, CPS is aiming to open 60 new charter schools in the next five years, though the city says that number is as yet only a "projection."
In a press conference preceding the teachers' rally, Emanuel admitted that CPS teachers should receive a raise.
"Chicago teachers deserve a pay raise," the mayor said, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. "They work very hard. Chicago schoolchildren do not deserve a strike."
Nevertheless, many teachers remain skeptical of the mayor. Harper High School teacher John Thuet told the Chicago Tribune that he believes the mayor has "lost touch with reality."
"I feel like we're getting walked on. They're extending our hours, not giving us raises. And if we don't stop it now, I don't know when it will stop," Thuet told the Tribune.
The teachers union appears primed to take action -- and rumors of a strike are no secret. While no strike vote was taken Wednesday, CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said this week that such a vote will be taking place "when it’s appropriate" -- likely before the school year's end.
Almost 80 percent of CTU members recently rejected the current proposed teacher contract in straw polling, a number that soundly exceeds the minimum support needed for a strike to be called under current law. CBS Chicago reports that CPS contends the union is deliberately "misleading their members about the facts on the table" by distorting the city's proposals.
Teachers at the Wednesday rally told WBEZ they'd never been to such a large demonstration in their 30 years as educators.
"Never -- I don’t remember one like this. Not in my lifetime," the teachers told the station. "I mean, I’ve been in several strikes but I never recall a unified thing like this downtown."
CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard previously commented that talk of a strike amidst ongoing contract talks crossed a line. A forthcoming report by a third-party fact-finder is seeking a compromise between CPS and the teachers. That report is due to be released this summer.
Chicago teachers have not gone on strike since 1987.