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Chicago teachers standing firm

Chicago teachers on strike for a third day.

CHICAGO — Chicago teachers stayed away from public schools for a third day today in a strike over Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s demand for tough teacher evaluations that US education reform advocates see as crucial to fixing urban schools.

With some 350,000 children from kindergarten to high school age out of school, the patience of their parents began to fray as hopes were dashed for a quick resolution to the biggest US labour strike in a year.

Fiery union president Karen Lewis, who has called Emanuel a “liar and a bully,” said the two sides had agreed on only six of nearly 50 provisions of a new teacher contract.

An exasperated Chicago School Board President David Vitale said that he would not be back to the negotiating table today until the union made a comprehensive proposal to resolve the strike.

Lewis led the walk out on Monday of more than 29,000 teachers and support staff in the nation’s third-largest school district, saying that the union would not agree to school reforms it considers misguided.

The dispute jolted the United States, where a weakened labour movement seldom stages strikes and even less frequently wins them. Organised labour has lost several fights in the last year including Wisconsin stripping public sector unions of most of their bargaining power, Indiana making union dues voluntary and two California cities voting to pare pensions for unionised workers.

The strike in Barack Obama’s home city has put the US president in a tough spot between his ally and former top White House aide Emanuel, and labour unions he needs to win the presidential election.

Behind the scenes

Obama has said nothing in public about the dispute, allowing administration surrogates to urge the two sides to settle.

“The president has said what is appropriate to be said, which is that it is a local issue,” said Randi Weingarten, national president of the union that represents Chicago teachers. “It has national implication, but it has to be settled at the bargaining table.”

Obama’s own Education Department has championed some of the reforms Emanuel is seeking, and a win for the ambitious Chicago mayor would add momentum to the national school reform movement. (Reuters)

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