Chicago strike: Parents support teachers, but for how long? (+video)
Parents in Chicago are marching with the city's teachers, but some wonder how long this support will last if children are forced to miss days or weeks of school because of the strike. The teachers union has made efforts to inform parents about their position.
As Chicago teachers walked the picket lines for a second day, they were joined by many of the very people who are most inconvenienced by their strike: the parents who must now scramble to find a place for children to pass the time or for babysitters.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Help wanted: America's most in-demand workers
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Mothers and fathers — some with their kids in tow — are marching with the teachers. Other parents are honking their encouragement from cars or planting yard signs that announce their support in English and Spanish.
Unions are still hallowed organizations in much of Chicago, and the teachers union holds a special place of honor in many households where children often grow up to join the same police, firefighter or trade unions as their parents and grandparents.
"I'm going to stay strong, behind the teachers," said the Rev. Michael Grant, who joined teachers on the picket line Tuesday. "My son says he's proud, 'You are supporting my teacher.'"
But one question looming over the contract talks is whether parents will continue to stand behind teachers if students are left idle for days or weeks. That ticking clock could instill a sense of urgency in the ongoing negotiations.
Mary Bryan, the grandmother of two students at Shoop Academy on the city's far South Side, supports the teachers because she see "the frustration, the overwork they have." A protracted labor battle, she acknowledged, would "test the support" of many families.
Parents "should stick with them, but they might demand teachers go back to work," Bryan added.
To win friends, the union has engaged in something of a publicity campaign, telling parents repeatedly about problems with schools and the barriers that have made it more difficult to serve their kids. They cite classrooms that are stifling hot without air conditioning, important books that are unavailable and supplies as basic as toilet paper that are sometimes in short supply.
"They've been keeping me informed about that for months and months," Grant said.
It was a shrewd tactic, said Robert Bruno, professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
"This union figured out they couldn't assume the public would be on their side so they went out and actively engaged in getting parent support," Bruno said. "They worked like the devil to get it."
But, said some reform advocates, public opinion could swing against the union relatively soon if the dispute seems to carry on with no resolution in sight.
Juan Jose Gonzalez is the Chicago director for the education advocacy group Stand for Children, which has hundreds of parent volunteers and was instrumental in pushing legislative reforms in Illinois. He says parents "are all over the map" in terms of their support for teachers or the school district.