‘They want to know if there’s anything more they can get,” said Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis, explaining why her members voted to reject a tentative agreement the CTU had negotiated with Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel. Two days later, on September 18, after taking a victory lap to show who calls the shots in the Windy City, the CTU accepted the generous deal.
The odds had seemed to favor a happier outcome. Emanuel, President Obama’s former chief of staff, is a notorious fighter and an ardent champion of education reform. Chicago public-school teachers already earn, on average, $76,000 a year for working 190 days (15 of them student-free “professional” days). The city spends more than $13,000 per child a year and deems 99.7 percent of its teachers effective, yet its 674 schools graduate just 60 percent of their students, and fully 52 percent of fourth-graders score “below basic” in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. When the CTU opted in early September to strike rather than continue negotiating, it seemed a golden opportunity for Emanuel to prove that reform-minded Democrats can face down their union allies.