Chicago Teacher Strike Hinges On Proposal Vote Tuesday

If teachers don't approve strike-ending proposal Tuesday afternoon, the conflict goes to court.

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Chicago teachers will meet to consider a contract settlement on Tuesday, the seventh day of their strike which has kept 350,000 area students out of school.

[Photos: Chicago Teachers on Strike]

Union delegates will vote on a tentative agreement reached last week in negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools. The vote will come a day after Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel filed a court injunction ordering teachers back to work using state law, which a judge will rule on Wednesday morning if the union votes to continue the strike Tuesday.

The two sides are at odds over how the nation's third-largest school district should address its failing schools. Emanuel and CPS reformers insist that underachieving schools should be completely revamped – either by replacing such schools' underperforming teachers and administrators or by converting them to non-union charter schools. The teachers union maintains that these schools, often found in the inner city or in poorer neighborhoods, should receive more investment for teacher pay and school resources.

The proposal, to be voted on at 3 p.m. Tuesday, would increase teacher pay for three consecutive years, but would not restore the 4 percent raise Emanuel nixed earlier this year. It would not institute "merit pay," the practice of paying teachers different amounts based on performance.

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If the 800 union delegates, who represent nearly 30,000 Chicago school employees, do not approve the proposal a judge could determine the fate of the strike Wednesday. Emanuel and CPS' injunction contends that the strike is illegal and presents a danger to public health by denying students school meals and social services, such as special needs care and a safe haven from dangerous neighborhoods.

The injunction rankled the union, who portrayed it as a suppression of teachers' rights to freedom of speech and assembly.

"If this was an illegal strike, the Chicago Public Schools would have sought injunctive relief on day one," the CTU said in a statement released Monday. "This attempt to thwart our democratic process is consistent with Mayor Emanuel's bullying behavior toward public school educators."

Emanuel reiterated the need for the injunction Monday, saying students need to be back into the classroom.

""I will not stand by while the children of Chicago are played as pawns in an internal dispute within a union," Emanuel said. "While the union works through its remaining issues, there is no reason why the children of Chicago should not be back in the classroom, as they had been for weeks while negotiators worked through these same issues."

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One noticeably absent voice from the dispute has been President Barack Obama, whose political career began in Chicago. Emanuel, the city's mayor, was once Obama's chief-of-staff and remains a prominent supporter.

Arne Duncan, Obama's Secretary of Education, was the head of CPS before his appointment and was an ardent advocate of the aggressive reforms Emanuel and CPS are now pushing. On the other hand, the Chicago Teacher's Union is an affiliate of the national-level American Federation of Teachers, a powerful ally of Obama and the Democratic Party.

Seth Cline is a reporter with U.S. News and World Report. Contact him at scline@usnews.com or follow him on Twitter.