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Editorial: Skip the strike hysteria: Make a deal

Karen Lewis president Chicago Teachers Uniannounces news conference thCTU filed 10-day strike notice Wednesday.  |  Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, announces at a news conference that the CTU filed a 10-day strike notice Wednesday. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 29, 2012 10:48PM

Shortly after filing a 10-day strike notice on Wednesday, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis offered up this meaty nugget for the union and Mayor Rahm Emanuel to chew on over the next 10 days:

“We will have a contract,” Lewis told reporters and supporters gathered at the union’s headquarters, “and it will come the easy way or the hard way.”

Increasingly, the union seems intent on forcing the hard way — by pushing the mayor and the school system so far that a strike is inevitable.

But we aren’t there yet, despite Wednesday’s notice and the union’s flame-throwing rhetoric: “It has been insult after insult after insult,” Lewis said. “Enough is enough.”

The notice — even the strike date that will likely be set on Thursday — is yet another bargaining tactic by the union to ratchet up the pressure on Emanuel and the CPS leadership. The notice and a strike date commit the union to nothing. They could call off the strike at any moment.

The union is trying to put as much pressure on CPS officials as humanly possible, to get them to give on core union issues: a healthy raise; a teacher recall policy; changes to the teacher evaluation system, and guarantees of a better school day.

We don’t blame them for trying. Teachers’ anger and frustration are real, and CPS is looking to use the contract to institute major changes that many teachers resist. That said, a labor contract cannot and will not ever solve all that ails the Chicago schools.

Without the threat of a strike, a reform-minded mayor and CPS have less incentive to settle. And as the school year wears on, CPS will begin grappling with a deficit approaching $1 billion, diminishing the union’s leverage.

But this is no one-sided fight, despite what the CTU says. CPS officials accuse union leaders of dragging their feet in talks as strongly as the union accuses school officials. CPS has been pushing for needed, important changes to the contract, and they are right to limit the raise offered to teachers. It bears repeating that CPS is broke.

Ultimately, though, there is no an insurmountable gulf between CPS and the union.

As we said last week, a fair contract is doable without a strike.

And it must be done.

With each passing day, hysteria will grow and reason will fade.

CPS and the union can’t let that happen and, in an encouraging sign, contract talks are scheduled through the weekend.

It’s time to make a deal that is good for teachers, students and all of Chicago.

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