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Strike-ending 'framework' in place for Chicago teachers as Big Labor flexes muscle

Union influence may have waned, but organized labor planned to rally in Chicago on Saturday to support what appear to be two rare union victories in Chicago and neighboring Wisconsin.

By Staff writer / September 15, 2012

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis (R) leaves a press conference on the fifth day of their strike in Chicago, Friday. Teachers are expected to vote on a framework contract on Sunday.

John Gress/REUTERS

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ATLANTA

Union members from as far away as Boston were expected to flock to Chicago on Saturday to rally and march in solidarity with teachers as a week-long strike that steamrolled the city inched closer to a resolution.

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That the rally comes only a day after a state judge invalidated most of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-collective bargaining law only served to sweeten the moment for many union members, coming as affirmation that, after decades of decline, unions still have muscle when it comes to showdowns over pay, benefits, and work performance.

The strike "has become the focal point for the union movement and its future in this country," Terry Mazany, a former interim CEO at Chicago Public Schools, told the Associated Press.

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Even though it comes before a scheduled vote on Sunday for city teachers to approve what officials are calling the “framework,” the planned rally and march in Chicago on Saturday also highlights the difficulty that US school reformers still face in holding down costs while pushing individual responsibility onto teachers for how their students perform – a main sticking point behind a strike that left 350,000 Chicago students at home for a week. Only 1 in 5 Chicago 8th graders tested as proficient in math and reading in 2011, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, a slight improvement from a decade ago.

After marathon negotiating sessions this week, the teachers union won concessions from the city on pay increases as well as the percentage that teacher evaluations will focus on student test scores. Mayor Rahm Emanuel called it an “honest and principled compromise.”

The city wanted 40 percent of each teacher evaluation to be tied to their students’ test scores, but the agreed-upon number, according to published reports, is likely to be more in the 30-percent range. For their part, teachers worried that the sudden use of test scores as part of the evaluations would unfairly punish some teachers.

The pressure on politicians to rein in the unions is high, even in Democrat-controlled Chicago, where the strike exposed a rift among Democrats about how to rein in school costs while dramatically improving the city’s low test scores and high dropout rate.

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