Chicago Teachers Union Delegates Vote To End Strike

The Chicago Teachers Union called off its strike today. On Sunday the delegates voted down a proposed contract offer, saying they needed more time to consider it. Classes are scheduled to resume on Wednesday. Claudio Sanchez talks to Audie Cornish.

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In Chicago, teachers have suspended their strike. That means teachers and students could be back to class as soon as tomorrow. The strike lasted seven days.

And with us to explain what has transpired in Chicago is NPR's Claudio Sanchez. And, Claudio, teachers, as we've said, have suspended the strike. What has the reaction been?

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: The reaction, Audie, has been pretty emotional. There were reports of kids in some neighborhoods running out into the streets celebrating. You would never imagine that, given that they're going to go back to classes for sure tomorrow. The union delegates, it seems, decided that there was no more to gain from a work stoppage. They voted 98 percent to suspend the strike. They came out of their meeting very happy, for the most part.

There had been a lot of pressure building on the union to resolve this or at least to suspend the work stoppage because it was creating such a dilemma for parents and for kids. Mayor Emanuel, on the other hand, had a more, you know, serious response. He was at Walter Peyton College Prep and the address he gave was carried live on local TV. Here's what he said.

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: This settlement is an honest compromise. It means returning our schools to their primary purpose - the education of our children. It means a new day and a new direction for the Chicago public schools. In this contract, we gave our children a seat at the table.

SANCHEZ: Emanuel, by the way, went on to say that this proposed contract is a break from the past. That's what he called it. And he said - he also called it a history - getting away from a history of false choices. He highlighted in particular what he considers a big victory - an extra hour and a half of instruction, so that kids starting kindergarten this year will have, in his math, two and a half years extra of instruction by the time they finish high school. So, he's happy but we'll see what happens after this.

CORNISH: So, what's the response from union leaders? I mean, are they happy with the decision to suspend the strike?

CLAUDIO SNACHEZ, BYLINE: It seems they are. But more than happy, they're really relieved. Union president Karen Lewis sounded very relieved during her short news conference. And here's what she said.

KAREN LEWIS: The issue is, we cannot get a perfect contract. There's no such thing as a contract that would make all of us happy. And we're realistic about that. But the other issue is, do we stay on strike forever until every little thing that we want is capable of being gotten?

SNACHEZ: Lewis had also said, going into the meeting today, that if she was in the classroom she'd vote to end the strike and, for the most part, endorse the agreement, based on what has already been negotiated, even though, again, the details are very sketchy. She said that the proposed contract was not perfect, but not bad either.

Now, details of what teachers will now spend the next few weeks reviewing, you know, are in flux. The union has secured a hefty pay raise for teachers over four years. School officials have also agreed not to fire teachers after one year under a new, tougher evaluation policy that would be phased in over time. Merit pay was taken off the table. And more teachers would be hired under a plan to extend the school day. All important victories for the union. The toughest issue down the road will probably be how much weight students' test scores should have in rewarding or firing teachers.

CORNISH: Claudio, thank you.

SNACHEZ: You're welcome.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Claudio Sanchez. He spoke with us about the decision by the Chicago Teachers Union to suspend their strike.

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