With Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in Charlotte, N.C. for the Democratic National Convention, local and national media alike did not take long to note the irony in the former White House chief of staff's appeal to the Democratic Party's pro-union base and his own role in the highly-publicized standoff over public schools teachers' contracts in his own city.
Commenting on the ongoing negotiations in an interview with Crain's Wednesday, Emanuel said "we are dealing with all of that."
And when it came to Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis's recent accusation that he is "a liar and a bully," Emanuel told Crain's the ongoing negotiations are "not about me."
Still, as the teachers union's Sept. 10 strike deadline nears, many onlookers have identified the possible walkout as an issue that could define Emanuel's first term as mayor.
As the Chicago Sun-Times noted, the contract struggles have been a long time coming, dating back before Chicago's new mayor took office at City Hall.
The CTU was leery of Emanuel's plans for the city's schools well before he was elected last February. In their profile of the then-candidate, the CTU wrote that Emanuel was "out of touch" and stood in direct opposition to "education issues of importance to our members."
(Scroll down to view photos from the ongoing standoff over Chicago's schools.)
Not long after the mayor was elected, the state legislature passed a law cutting into teachers' abilities to negotiate their contracts and making it more difficult for the teachers union to move to strike.
Next, the Emanuel-appointed school board, blaming the district's massive budget deficit, voted unanimously to rescind the four-percent pay raise that teachers were anticipating as part of their contract. A week later, the board approved salaries for then-newly installed Chicago Public Schools executives that were markedly higher than their predecessors' pay.
As the first day of school approached last fall, Emanuel and CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard touted their push for a district-wide longer school day, one of the loftiest proposals the mayor campaigned on during the mayoral race.
The teachers union did not take such actions lightly. In a radio interview last August, Lewis said that CTU members were "very upset" and felt "disrespected." She further admitted that the likelihood of a strike vote was "very high."
Ten months later, in June, CTU members voted overwhelmingly to authorize what would be their first strike in 25 years in the event that the union and city fail to arrive at a deal on a contract. That strike is set to begin Monday as the union attempts to arrive at a consensus with the city on pay, class size, school closures and the longer school day -- common ground they could not previously reach even with the help of an independent arbitrator.
Speaking with ABC Chicago this week, Lewis said she is "hoping that we come to a reasonable settlement, but of course, I always believe in being prepared."
And the city, too, is preparing for a walkout with the goal of keeping CPS students in school even if the teachers go on strike via their "Children First" contingency plan.
"We hope to soon reach a fair agreement that recognizes them for their hard work and allows us to avoid any disruptions to our kids' school year just as they and their teachers are benefiting from the new Full School Day," Brizard said in a statement released Monday.
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