Chicago's Teacher Strike Ends; Classes Resume Wednesday

Union's House of Delegates vote to end strike; Contract ratification still pending

Chicago's first teacher strike in 25 years came to an end Tuesday after more than a week of discussions and rallies that had parents scrambling to find alternative care for their children.

The Chicago Teachers Union's House of Delegates -- nearly 800 members -- voted to end the strike during a meeting at Operating Engineers Hall, at 2260 Grove Street, on the city's south side.

"We feel very positive about moving forward. We feel grateful that we have a united union, and that when a union moves together we have amazing things happen," CTU's president, Karen Lewis, said shortly after the vote.

The action comes after delegates had a chance to review a contract proposal solidified over the weekend and means roughly 350,000 Chicago Public Schools students will head back to class on Wednesday.

It does not mean, however, an automatic approval of that contract. Ratification of the contract requires a separate vote from the union's rank and file.

School board president David Vitale, who was an integral part of talks once the strike began, expressed confidence there would be no issues.

"This is a fair contract that's actually respectful for our teachers," he said after the union vote. "This will transform the way we run the district to the benefit of teachers, not just to our kids."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the offer on the table an "honest compromise" and said it means returning Chicago's schools to their primary purpose: educating children.

"It means a new day and a new direction for the Chicago Public Schools, and [with] this contract we gave our children a seat at the table," he said.

CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said he was "overjoyed" that students would be returning to class Wednesday. He said the contract, coupled with an improved graduation rate and improved SAT scores, were steps in the right direction.

"With this agreement now we have the foundation for transformation," said Brizard. "We know that we can make Chicago the best urban school district in America."

Still, Lewis conceded that trust remains "a big issue" between school bureaucrats and teachers, and said she hopes the mayor -- a man she's previously classified as a bully -- "carries out this contract in good faith."

Thousands of teachers in the nation's third-largest school district walked off the job on Sept. 10 after more than a year of slow, contentious negotiations over salary, health benefits and job security.

Shortly after Emanuel took office in May 2011, the school board unanimously voted to cancel a 4 percent pay increase in the final year of the teachers' existing contract. Months later, Emanuel's administration began coercing teachers at some schools to extend the length of their school day.

The teachers' previous contract expired June 30 and both sides weeks later rejected a report assembled by an independent fact-finder. That set the stage for the work stoppage the mayor said was "unnecessary" and one of "choice."

While leadership on both sides continued the back-and-forth of contract negotiations, thousands of teachers and their supporters for days took to the city streets in a massive show of solidarity.

On Monday, Emanuel and CPS attorneys filed a request for an injunction to force teachers off the picket lines, claiming the outstanding issues, as publicly stated by the CTU -- teacher evaluations and recalls -- weren't legal reasons for a work stoppage.

A provision added to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act last year prohibits teachers from  striking on issues unrelated to economic matters; those involving pay and benefits.

A Cook County judge declined the mayor's request to hold a same-day hearing on the injunction request. Instead, that hearing would have been held Wednesday. With Tuesday's action by the House of Delegates, that hearing is no longer necessary.

Teachers walked off the job for 19 days in October 1987. Prior to that, there had been nine strikes between 1969 and 1987.

This latest strike forced busy parents to find alternative care for their children. Many said they exhausted available vacation time. Others made use of the nearly 150 "Children First" sites that provided students with alternative programming and meals.

As the strike entered its second week, some frustrated parents became more vocal in their demand that both sides end the stalemate. A small group of parents on Monday marched outside CTU headquarters holding signs that read "If you care about the kids, go back to work" and "350,000 CPS Hostages! Let our children learn" and "Don't say you care, show it!"

Details of the tentative deal:

NBC Chicago has an array of reporters and producers covering the Chicago teacher strike. Check our live blog for continuous coverage and updates throughout the strike.

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