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Angry teachers rally despite Mayor Emanuel saying they deserve raise

Chicago Teachers Unimembers  rally inside Auditorium Theatre.  Wednesday May 22 2012.  | Scott Stewart~Chicago Sun-Times.

Chicago Teachers Union members rally inside the Auditorium Theatre. Wednesday, May 22, 2012. | Scott Stewart~Chicago Sun-Times.

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Updated: July 3, 2012 8:50AM

Screaming “Strike!” and “Fight,” thousands of Chicago Teachers Union members Wednesday rocked the Auditorium Theatre with anger and frustration over a contract offer they derided as an “insult.’’

Gazing over a sea of red CTU T-shirts spanning four balconies and a main floor, CTU President Karen Lewis told the reved-up crowd, “We are nearly 4,000 strong in here. . . .

“There are 1,500 more people in the street. Chicago Teachers Union — this is your finest hour!”

Lewis told members battling over a contract that expires June 30 that the rally was intended to “show the world that we are united.”

Turning to the crowd, she asked, “Why are we here?” Her response: competing chants of “Strike” and “Fight.’’

Lewis also cited other numbers. She pointed to a recent Chicago Tribune-WGN TV poll that she said showed “the general public . . . they are on our side. . . . They are not buying” the mayor’s education agenda.

Meanwhile, Lewis said, “we have a [52] percent increase in the murder rate since this man has been mayor.’’

And American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten trotted out her own numbers. “I come with the support of 1.5 million people,’’ she told the crowd.

Teachers poured out of the first CTU citywide rally in decades feeling emboldened and pumped up as they headed for a march down Michigan Avenue and to the Chicago Board of Education.

“We feel pretty powerful right now,’’ said Curie High teacher Adam Heenan. “We feel like we can win.’’

As they took over the northbound lanes of Michigan Avenue, teachers shouted “Hey, Hey. Ho, Ho. Rahm Emanuel has got to go!’’

The fiery rally came in a day when Mayor Emanuel, who led the push for a longer school day next school year, conceded teachers should get a pay raise.

CPS has offered the CTU 2 percent the first year, followed by a pay freeze, and then three years of a “differentiated pay” structure that wouldn’t be nailed down until next year.

“Chicago teachers deserve a pay raise,” Emanuel said. “They work very hard. Chicago schoolchildren do not deserve a strike. We are working with an independent arbitrator” to accomplish both.

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