Protesters next to the Mayor’s office at the City Hall (Photo credit: Elexis Ruiz)
Community groups led a pro-union rally at the City Hall Monday afternoon, protesting their opposition to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s injunction to end the week-long teachers’ strike and calling him a “classic bully.”
Chanting “This is what democracy looks like,” teachers, parents and Chicago Public Schools students gathered in front of the mayor’s office to protest the injunction and support the 26,000 striking teachers.
“Injunctions have been used as a tool to suppress the right to strike. They do not belong in a democracy,” said Steven Ashby, professor of labor studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
In a press release Sunday night, Emanuel called the schools shutdown by teachers a “strike of choice” and said the union’s issues are “deemed by state law to be non-strikable.” The press release said the strike “endangers the health and safety of our children.”
“I won’t stand by while the children of Chicago are played as pawns,” Emanuel said.
The Chicago Tribune reported Monday that school district officials had hoped a circuit court judge would issue an immediate halt to the strike. Instead, the judge said a hearing could be held Wednesday.
Carrying signs, blowing whistles and chanting pro-union slogans, red-shirted teachers were joined on Monday by mail carriers, nurses and other supporters. “Our mayor is a classic bully,” said Maria Torres, a Pilsen Alliance representative who spoke at the rally.
The teachers’ strike entered its second week on Monday. Teachers are calling for smaller classes, more social workers in each school, a pay raise, better working conditions and other changes. An estimated 350,000 students have been out of school since the strike began.
“This strike is an act of bravery, it is an act of advocacy, and it is an act that shows deep commitment by the teachers who chose this profession to go out there and educate our kids,” said Leshawn Williams, a representative of National Nurses United.
Speakers said teachers had a right to turn down the proposed contract, which was offered by the school district over the weekend.
“I support the teachers and their continued strike,” said Amy Green, a parent of a CPS student and member of Parents 4 Teachers. “I am married to a lawyer, and I would never sign anything without thoroughly looking at the contract language.”
A student also spoke at the rally in support of the striking teachers. “I’m only 17 years old, and I know that I will not sign a contract that I have not fully read yet,” said Sarah Johnson, a student at Roosevelt High School.
Jitu Brown, an organizer with the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, said: “That’s what CPS stands for now: Closing Public Schools. If you are talking about children first, they must be honest enough to put the structural inequities in place.”
Brown compared school resources in Lakeview on the North Side to those in the South Side neighborhood of Kenwood. He said there are many more language classes advanced placement courses in a high school in Lakeview than a school on the South Side. “Parents, teachers and students are united to demand an equitable school system,” Brown said.
Bill Schorsch, vice president of National Letter Carriers Association Branch 825, added his own suggestions for the mayor. “If he wants to file an injunction, why doesn’t he file one to stop school closures?” he said.
Teachers will remain on their picket lines until an agreement is reached or a circuit court judge calls for an immediate end to the strike. The Chicago Tribune reported that CTU President Karen Lewis acknowledged “returning to classes Wednesday may be optimistic” because the union and CPS are having a hard time finding an agreement that will end the strike fairly.
Chicago Teachers Union delegates voted Tuesday evening to suspend the strike after reviewing a contract settlement proposed by the school district. About 350,000 students returned to classrooms Wednesday, putting an end to a walkout that made the city the epicenter of the debate over unionized workers rights and the overhaul of the nation’s public education system.