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Rahm Emanuel warns teaching, labor unions about changes

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel is laying down the law to two unions whose cooperation he needs to turn Chicago around: teachers he wants to work a longer school day and laborers he wants to simply show up at work in greater numbers.

During the campaign, Emanuel declared his support for curtailing teachers’ right to strike. He also made it clear that, if teachers won’t agree to work longer hours for extra pay, he’ll ask the Illinois General Assembly to mandate it.

On Monday, Emanuel said he has made his feelings known to a Chicago Teachers Union that did not support his candidacy and to legislative leaders who are scheduled to wrap up their spring session two weeks after the new mayor is sworn in.

Mayor Daley started out demanding 45 extra minutes in the last teachers contract and ended up settling for no change at all. Emanuel sounds like he’s not prepared to take “no” for an answer.

“If you took a child in Chicago and their cousin in Houston from kindergarten through high school, the cousin in Houston will spend four more years in a classroom in instruction. Compared to Boston or New York, that’s on average about 2.5 more years. ... That’s unacceptable. We need a longer day and a longer year,” Emanuel said.

“I’ve already been in communication with those responsible for that to happen for Chicago, plus other types of things important for education reform. ... I’ve let it be known that you cannot have a city compete for new businesses, for families when you have the shortest school day and school year in the country of any major city. ... We are cheating the children of Chicago on their future.”

Pressed to describe the reaction to his ultimatum, Emanuel said, “They’re all cognizant of a couple facts: One that if you have a shorter school day, we’re selling the city short and our children short. ... Two, we have a lot of work to do to get it done.”

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis branded Houston the “outlier” for instructional minutes, with no “significantly better” results on standardized test to show for it.

But, she agreed with the mayor-elect that Chicago needs a longer school day. The only question is, how schools would use the extra time.

“One of the things we want to make sure is that we have professional development built into the day and that we also have a full, rich curriculum that includes art, music, recess, p.e., history and science for all students,” Lewis said.

Pressed on what the union wants in return, Lewis said, “We’re not having that discussion yet. We don’t make backroom deals. We have a different way of doing it. The conversation we need to have is what that [longer day] will look like.”

As for Emanuel’s threat to ask Springfield to mandate a longer day if the CTU won’t agree to it at the bargaining table, she said, “I guess my question is, why do we need to threaten one another? Can we start by having a conversation without threats? We’re reasonable people.”

CTU spokesperson Liz Brown noted that individual schools already have the ability to lengthen the school day—by reinstating recess and moving lunch from the end to the middle of the day.

“It’s called a waiver,” Brown said, noting that it’s done by faculty vote.

Emanuel’s other ultimatum was delivered to Laborers Local 1001, whose members work for the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation.

The Sun-Times reported last week that the Daley administration is making dramatic cutbacks in forestry and rodent control services as it struggles to sweep the streets and pick up garbage amid a two-year hiring freeze and chronic absenteeism.

“A 33 percent daily absentee rate has put the city in the position that it’s making choices between services it need not make. ... That’s unacceptable to the city,” Emanuel said.

“Residents and taxpayers and people that expect these services deserve better and they will get better. And I asked the leaders of organized labor to be that partner in solving this problem.”

Lou Phillips, business manager of laborers Local 1001, insisted that the daily absenteeism rate is more like five percent.

He accused the Daley administration of lumping together employees on duty disability and restricted duty with those who call in sick to “hide the fact that they don’t have enough bodies to do the job” Streets and San is supposed to do.

“If somebody is on duty disability because they got hurt on the job, I’m not Jesus Christ. I can’t heal `em,” Phillips said.

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