Chicago aldermen split on schools strike
City Hall (Tribune illustration)
Chicago teachers were out on strike, so Roberto Maldonado II wasn’t at Drummond Elementary School in Bucktown. He was with Dad at work.
“This is the effect,” said Ald. Roberto Maldonado of the city’s first teachers strike in 25 years. “I kept one (child), and my wife kept two.”
The 26th Ward alderman was one of dozens who attended strike briefing sessions put together by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration. Much like the public, aldermen were told that negotiators for the mayor and Chicago Public Schools feel they are very close to a final agreement.
Like the mayor, many aldermen blamed the union for the upset the strike is causing. “Disappointing” seemed to be the adjective of the day.
“It’s disappointing that the decision was made to strike today,” said Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd. “I think it would have been more productive to possibly extend the strike deadline for a few more days.”
Ald. Carrie Austin, 34th, who last week said the blame for a strike would be shared by Emanuel and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, stood by that assessment while also questioning the need for the union to declare a strike.
“Are your demands such that you have to strike to get resolution?” she asked. “That’s horrible that you say, ‘Well, we’re going to show you.’”
Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno, 1st, noted that three charter schools, where teachers are not part of a union, were open in his ward Monday.
“It’s ridiculous that they’re striking,” Moreno said. “In my opinion, they had a fair offer, there is a fair offer, and I just think some of the union leadership are hell bent on striking. It’s very unfortunate.”
The willingness to cast blame on the union was not a universally held opinion among aldermen, however, evidenced by the fact only 33 out of 50 signed a weekend letter to Lewis urging her to “keep students in the classroom during negotiations.”
Several aldermen, like Ald. Robert Fioretti, 2nd, and Ald. Roderick Sawyer, 6th, said the letter should have been directed to both Lewis and the Chicago Public Schools leaders appointed by Emanuel.
A few said they were never asked to sign. Among those was Nicholas Sposato, 36th, who was not pleased that it came down to a strike, but supported the union’s right to hit the picket lines.
Ald. Timothy Cullerton, 38th, signed the letter, but expressed support for the teachers. “They certainly didn’t want it to come to this,” Cullerton said. “I support the teachers. I hope it comes to a quick resolution for everybody’s sake.”
Cullerton, a longtime union member, said he visited three schools on Monday morning before his briefing. “As I was out on the street with the teachers, a lot of people were driving by, honking their horns,” he said. “There seems to be a lot of support for them.”
Aldermen who represent city neighborhoods dealing with high levels of street violence said their primary concern is student safety.
“My concern right now is that the children have safe places to be during this time when the unprecedented level of violence we’ve seen in my community — across Austin, across West Garfield, East Garfield, North Lawndale,” said Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th. “The key right now is making sure that the kids are safe.”
Ervin sent out an e-mail blast early Monday, telling parents how they could sign up their kids for a partial day of supervised activity at some school buildings.
“We’ve been reaching out to local residents to encourage them to get their kids into a safe place — if it’s not with CPS, with a local non-for-profit or a church,” Ervin said. “As long as there’s somewhere they can be safe during this period while the teachers may be out.”
Maldonado, meanwhile, said he was more fortunate than most parents, because he, his work-from-home wife and their extended family were able to find ways to take care of the kids.
Roberto II’s day did not pass without a civics lesson, however. Later Monday, Maldonado took his son to his ward office for “ward night,” the time-honored Chicago tradition of setting aside time for walk-in residents to get an audience with the alderman.