Some 29,000 teachers and support staff in the Midwest U.S. city of Chicago, Illinois are on strike, upset over reforms proposed by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel. The dispute between the city and teachers' union centers on pay and benefits, as Chicago Public Schools, also known as CPS, faces a $3 billion budget deficit over the next three years.
After failing to reach an agreement during weekend meetings described as "intense," the Chicago Teachers Union walked off the job Monday, leaving the parents of about 350,000 school children scrambling to find care.
"Our kids, the kids of Chicago, belong in the classroom," said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who criticized the strike as "unnecessary." "I am disappointed that we have come to this point, given that all the other parties acknowledge how close we are. This is a strike of choice."
One major sticking point between the union and CPS is job security.
Union negotiators want to have a system in place that calls recently laid off teachers back to work when new jobs become available. This is important to the union because of rumors CPS plans to close up to 100 schools as it struggles to close a $3 billion budget deficit, something Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis acknowledged.
"Recognizing the board's fiscal woes, we are not far apart on compensation. However, we are far apart on benefits," she said.
Lewis says the union wants to keep the health benefits teachers currently receive under the existing contract, another key issue standing in the way of an agreement.
Mayor Emanuel says school officials negotiated in good faith, mindful of the fiscal challenges the city faces. "They have worked through as you know in very close detail, and made a series of offers that are respectful of our teachers, does right by our kids, and is fair to our taxpayers," he said.
Chicago Public Schools is the third largest school district in the United States. The last time the Chicago Teachers Union walked picket lines was in 1987. That strike lasted 19 days.