Chicago teachers stay off the job

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

CHICAGO — The confrontation between Chicago teachers and Mayor Rahm Emanuel escalated yesterday when their union extended a strike and the mayor said he would go to court to block the walkout, risking more friction within President Barack Obama’s political coalition as the November 6 election nears.

There will be no classes in Chicago public schools today or tomorrow, affecting 350,000 kindergarten, elementary and high school students.

The showdown left in doubt a deal on wages, benefits and education reforms for 29,000 unionised teachers that negotiators thought they had struck on Friday to end the biggest labour dispute in the United States in a year.

It also could widen a rift within the Democratic Party between education reformers such as Obama’s former top White House aide Emanuel, and organised labour, which the Democrats need to get out the vote in the election.

Chicago union President Karen Lewis said some 800 union delegates met yesterday and decided to consult with rank-and-file members before voting whether to end the walkout.

“There’s no trust (of the school district and mayor),” Lewis said. “So you have a population of people who are frightened of never being able to work for no fault of their own.”

Union delegates will reconvene tomorrow to discuss the feedback from rank-and-file members, Lewis said. Parents should plan for their children to be out of school until at least Wednesday, she said.

No formal vote was taken during the meeting, but delegates were asked to stand up so that the leadership could get a sense of those for and against ending the strike, delegates said.

“A clear majority wanted to stay out. That’s why we are staying out,” Lewis told a news conference after a three-hour meeting of the delegates. (Reuters)

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