Chicago teachers strike: Is Rahm Emanuel's test a challenge for Obama?
The Chicago teachers strike takes the struggle over union demands to a bastion of Democratic control, a concern for Mayor Emanuel and President Obama, who will need union support in November.
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But the standoff in Chicago involves not a tea-party Republican but a staunch Democrat in a Democratic-controlled city. Moreover, Emanuel, a former chief of staff for Mr. Obama, is a rising star in his party, who won his office with strong labor support – backing that the president will need for his own reelection bid.Skip to next paragraph
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“This isn’t a case of right-wing Republican mayor or governor leading the assault, it’s coming from within the labor family of Democrats and that’s what makes it rather unusual,” Bruno says.
Long-term reforms to the beleaguered Chicago Public School system started under six-term Mayor Richard M. Daley, Emanuel’s predecessor. In 1988, the state allowed Mayor Daley to take control of the schools, which led to reforms including the launch of public charter schools and an emphasis on accountability through school testing.
Like the labor fights in neighboring states, the one in Chicago is economic, Emanuel says. The Chicago Public School district faces a projected budget deficit of $3 billion over the next three years. The city’s projected budget deficit is $369 million in 2013.
Mr. Vitale told reporters late Sunday that the school district is offering the union a 16 percent salary increase equaling $320 million over the next four years. “This is not a small commitment we’re making at a time when our fiscal situation is really challenged,” he said.
If the standoff continues, there are signs it could become a liability, not just for Emanuel but also for Obama. On Monday morning, Emanuel found himself in the unusual situation of being on the same side of the issue with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who released a statement saying he was “disappointed” by the union’s decision to strike.
Although Mr. Romney did not mention Emanuel by name, he said “teachers unions have too often made plain that their interests conflict with those of our children, and today we are seeing one of the clearest examples yet.”
The Romney campaign also released a statement late Monday from Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, who criticized Obama's silence regarding the strike.
"President Obama’s refusal to speak out against the teachers union strike in Chicago represents an abdication of leadership," Mr. Luna said. "The president frequently talks about the need for education reform, which will give every child the skills they need to be successful in the 21st century and a chance at the American Dream. But his silence inhibits those very things and yields to the whims of special interests at the cost of students."
Sen. Richard Durbin (D) of Illinois, the deputy Senate majority leader, also criticized the failure of both ends of the negotiating table to reach a resolution. When speaking to CNN Monday, he said: “Both sides need to get back to the table as quickly as possible and really stay there and negotiate through the night if necessary."
"Get it over with quickly," he added, "so we can get these kids back in school.”
Most caught off guard were Chicago parents, some of whom only learned of the strike Monday morning.
Edward Roche, a parent on the city’s West Side, said he was forced to drop his six-year-old son at emergency daycare at a local park district field house Monday. He says he is disappointed in the union’s decision to hold a strike one week after schools opened, because it confused his son, who was “very excited to learn.”
“I’m afraid of the damage this strike will do to him considering the difficult conservation I had with him about when he can go back to school,” Mr. Roche says.