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Editorial: Teachers risk losing a lot if strike drags on

Chicago Teachers UniPresident Karen Lewis speaks during rally Chicago public school teachers outside Chicago Board EducatiChicago Ill. Tuesday September 11

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis speaks during a rally of Chicago public school teachers outside of the Chicago Board of Education in Chicago, Ill., on Tuesday, September 11, 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 14, 2012 1:27PM

It may be hard to believe, but the Chicago Teachers Union has already won big.

The union leadership doesn’t talk about it much, but Chicago teachers should seriously chew over all that the CTU has already gained — and what they risk losing if this strike drags on.

Based on Tuesday’s developments, that appears more and more likely. CTU President Karen Lewis called the school board president’s assessment that a deal could be settled on Tuesday “lunacy.” Talks have a “considerable way to go,” the union says.

With each passing day, the very real gains the CTU already has won are placed in greater jeopardy, yet another victim of this unnecessary teacher strike.

† Raise and merit pay: Topping the list of wins is the hard-fought 16 percent raise secured by the union. This four-year raise includes “steps,” or pay for each additional year of experience, on top of a 2 or 3 percent annual cost-of-living raise. The step raises look to be smaller than in the previous contract but were not eliminated.

The board of education — backed by this paper and others — argued for replacing steps with a raise tied to additional responsibilities and student performance, or merit pay. We lost and the union won. But that win, including that impressive 16 percent raise, easily could disappear if the strike carries on indefinitely.

† A shorter “longer day”: The union argued all year against a 7œ-hour day for students, saying teachers should be paid more for working longer. And they complained that CPS lacked the cash to enhance the longer day with the subjects students get short-changed on, such as art and world languages. Mayor Rahm Emanuel relented, first reducing the school day to seven hours and then, in July, agreeing to extend the student’s day but not the teacher’s day. That deal meant schools got nearly 500 new positions to help staff the longer day.

† Teacher recall: The union and the board are battling over whether teachers displaced from closed schools should get first crack at job openings. Emanuel strongly opposes this, as do many principals, including 31 who sent a letter to the CTU president on Monday imploring her to protect the right of principals to pick their own staffs.

But let’s be clear: The board already has responded to teachers who, anticipating dozens of school closings in the coming years, want quality displaced teachers to get special consideration. In July, CPS agreed to give displaced teachers an inside track on the 500 jobs created for the longer day.

And going forward, the board proposes guaranteeing displaced teachers an interview for any job opening and, for the first time, giving recall rights to teachers whose schools are closed and merged with another. These are significant concessions that the CTU should grab while it can.

† Public support: A poll released Tuesday says 47 percent of Chicagoans support the strike. Much of that, we suspect, comes from the CTU’s very public push for more resources in schools: more social workers, art teachers, air conditioning. Teachers have long complained about these problems, but now they’re shouting from a larger stage. The tragedy is that these problems won’t be fixed at the bargaining table — for lack of money, not will — and the union is legally barred from striking over them anyway. But the union already has ensured that the good fight will continue on these issues long after a contract is signed.

Despite what Lewis says, only a handful of tough issues remain to be resolved at the bargaining table — most of them matters the union is not even allowed to strike over.

Teachers need to appreciate how far they’ve already come — and how much they stand to lose if they hold out for a pie-in-the-sky deal they can never get.

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