Friday, September 14, 2012

Teachers appear to be the winner

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Teachers and supporters including Jason Antesberger, a middle school math teacher, rally outside of the Hyatt Regency Chicago in Chicago, Ill., on Thursday, September 13, 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 14, 2012 2:33AM

If the point of going on strike is to get a better deal than you would have received without it, then the Chicago Teachers Union is already a pretty clear winner this week in its confrontation with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his school board.
If the point of going on strike is to give voice to the frustrations of your members and to allow them to vent their anger, then you’d have to say the CTU was a runaway winner on that front as well.
And if the point of going on strike is to let your employer know you’re not going to be taken for granted in the future, then score another one for the CTU.
Are you detecting a pattern here?
As negotiators worked into the night to put what were expected to be the finishing touches on a contract settlement that union leaders could take to a vote Friday, it’s a tad premature to assess winners and losers not knowing the full parameters of a final deal.
But unless the union totally capitulates on the last major issue on the table, it’s hard to see how CTU President Karen Lewis and her members come out of this week as anything but a decisive winner.
You might even say that Lewis and her team schooled the mayor on the harsh realities of picking a fight with the only labor group to which mothers and fathers regularly entrust their children — and which, frankly, never had a lot to lose in a work stoppage. By wrapping it up in a week, they haven’t even run the risk of the public turning on them.
All week, this strike has been playing out on two different levels: locally, where most of the public has been on the teachers’ side, and nationally, where a strange cadre of union-bashing conservative cheerleaders, self-styled “education reformers” and newspaper editorial boards have been singing the mayor’s praises.
I have no idea what the latter group is going to say about the mayor’s final product. They may decide he’s won as well if he retains the right of school principals to pass over laid-off teachers when they fill job openings. I’m sure that’s what Emanuel will be saying.
I can almost see him at the podium counting off the ways he won or rather the victories he will claim on behalf of the schoolchildren of Chicago.
1. Longer school day.
2. Effective teacher evaluations that for the first time will allow CPS to weed out bad teachers.
3. And, assuming he gets it in some form — principal autonomy (which, as I said the other day, isn’t entirely a bad thing).
I can even hear the quote: “It was never about me. It was about the children.”
But, of course, it was partly about him, and anybody who saw him sleep-deprived and rattled in front of the cameras on Monday knows Emanuel did not want this strike.
He did not want to be responsible for the first teacher walkout in Chicago in 25 years, and he did not expect it.
You’ll often hear it said during a negotiating impasse that “nobody wants a strike.”
But the truth is there is ALWAYS at least somebody who wants a strike. Sometimes there are a lot of people who want a strike. Some would argue you just have to take a strike every now and then to give the other side a reality check. In this situation, most of those people were on the teachers’ team.
Emanuel may think of himself as a “new Democrat” on the subject of education reform, which apparently means one who is willing to do battle with the teachers unions.
That earned Emanuel all those strange new allies this week from the Republican ranks who were cheering him on. Of course, they’re not really with him, because they know there’s nothing that’s new about his politics, and now his enemies in labor will be more emboldened.
There’s even a new Twitter hashtag out there that could follow him around for a few years, #Rahmney, in recognition of the Romney-Ryan endorsement of his negotiating stance with the teachers.
The CTU says it is planning a “Wisconsin-style” rally for Saturday in Union Park. Does that mean they will be serving beer, cheese and brats? Or does it mean they plan to enlist their union brothers and sisters in another disastrous recall campaign like we saw in Wisconsin?
They should stick with the beer and brats. Always a winner.

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