For the first time in a quarter of a century Chicago teachers went on strike today after last-ditch negotiations over the weekend failed to produce a new labor agreement for the country's third-largest school district.
The Chicago Teachers Union, representing more than 29,000 teachers, had been meeting with the Chicago Public Schools at the union's downtown offices until late Sunday when the union announced that the strike would start Monday morning. With teachers out of the classrooms and on the picket lines, 144 schools opened from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. to provide breakfast, lunch and care for students.
In a city where shootings have been the story of the summer, keeping nearly 400,000 students safe during the strike immediately became a top concern.
"We will make sure our kids are safe, we will see our way through these issues and our kids will be back in the classroom where they belong," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said at a press conference late Sunday night.
The teachers' labor agreement ended in June and months of negotiations failed to hatch a new deal, with the main sticking points proving to be raises and benefits.
"Negotiations have been intense but productive. However we have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike," Karen Lewis, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said Sunday. "This is a difficult decision and one we hoped we could avoid. Throughout these negotiations have I remained hopeful but determined. We must do things differently in this city if we are to provide our students with the education they so rightfully deserve."
"We are not far apart on compensation," Lewis noted. "However, we are apart on benefits."
For his part, a "disappointed" Emanuel said that the two sides had made so much progress in the negotiations that the walk-out should have and could have been avoided.
"This is a strike of choice, and because of how close we are, it is a strike that is unnecessary," he said.
The mayor vowed that his team was ready to resume negotiations immediately.