The Strike is Over!

It’s back to business as usual.

Following a seven-day strike, teachers in Chicago Public Schools returned to their classrooms on September 19 and resumed the hard work of educating our children. The Chicago Teachers Union has yet to officially approve a new contract but is likely to do so in the coming weeks. The contract is expected to include raises for teachers in each of the next three years (with an option for a fourth year), as well as reject the merit pay and stricter teacher evaluations proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

When reading about this in a Chicago Tribune article, I came across an interesting graphic.

Based on the chart, it looks like the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike during just about every contract negotiation from 1969 to 1987. Then, somewhat mysteriously, there wasn’t another strike for 25 years. A quick look at the issues listed next to each strike doesn’t reveal any surprises — teacher pay, class size, funding. So, what changed? Were the contracts created over the last 25 years perfect? The short answers are “A lot” and “No.” The strength of unions in the 1980s and ‘90s was largely reduced by employers’ willingness to hire replacement workers. In the late ‘90s, when the unemployment rate was low, employees saw little benefit to joining unions. Well, guess what’s back? Unemployment! Does that mean that we will see an increase in the power of unions again? It’s hard to say, but one thing is for sure. There’s someone new at the negotiation table — the American Public.

In today’s world, nothing happens behind closed doors and local issues become national issues very quickly. Last week, teachers were demonstrating in Madison, Wis., to show solidarity with Chicago Public School teachers. (You may recall their striking in Wisconsin in February when Governor Scott Walker proposed ending collective bargaining rights for teachers.)

The good news is that the public’s business is finally being conducted in public. The bad news is that the public’s business is finally being conducted in public. Any issue that faces a school board or a superintendent has the potential to be the issue that defines them, their district or their state. Only those who stay vigilant and ahead of the issues are likely to survive.

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