* Strike rallied US labor movement after string of national
* Public school classes to resume Wednesday after 7-day
* Contract has compromises on teacher evaluations
By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO, Sept 18 Chicago public school teachers
voted on Tuesday to end their strike and resume classes in the
third-largest U.S. school district, ending a confrontation with
Mayor Rahm Emanuel that focused national attention on struggling
Some 800 union delegates representing the 29,000 teachers
and support staff in Chicago Public Schools voted overwhelmingly
to resume classes on Wednesday after more than two hours of
"I am so thrilled that people are going back," Chicago
Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said. "Everybody is looking
forward to seeing their kids tomorrow. I can guarantee you
The delegates decided to suspend their strike by a voice
vote on Tuesday. Lewis said the entire membership of the union
will cast a formal vote in about two weeks to ratify the
The delegates ended the strike on their second attempt,
having decided on Sunday to continue the walkout for two more
days so they could review details of a proposed three-year
contract with Emanuel.
Lewis led the walkout on Sept. 10, the first Chicago
teachers' strike in 25 years, to protest Emanuel's demand for
sweeping education reforms. Some 350,000 public school students
were affected by the largest U.S. labor dispute in a year.
Emanuel on Monday tried to get a court order ending the
strike, angering the union. It was not clear if a court hearing
scheduled for Wednesday on Emanuel's legal request would
The strike has focused attention on a national debate over
how to improve failing schools. Emanuel, backed by a powerful
reform movement, believes poorly performing schools should be
closed and reopened with new staff or converted to "charter"
schools that often are non-union and run by private groups.
Teachers want more resources put into neighborhood public
schools to help them succeed. Chicago teachers say many of their
students live in poor and crime-ridden areas and this affects
their learning. More than 80 percent of public school students
qualify for free meals based on low family incomes.
The decision by the union to walk out of classrooms eight
days ago rather than accept Emanuel's reforms galvanized the
weakened U.S. labor movement after a string of national defeats.
Retired Chicago teacher Lance Cohn, who said he went through
nine strikes while he was working, stressed the unity of
teachers and the support of parents during the strike.
Labor unions in the United States have taken a beating in
recent years, he said. "I think we're starting to bounce back,"
Unions lost battles recently in Wisconsin, where Republicans
stripped public sector unions such as teachers of most powers to
bargain, Indiana's decision to make payment of union dues
voluntary, and the vote of two California cities to curb the
pensions of government workers.
President Barack Obama was silent throughout the nasty
dispute in his home city between Emanuel, who formerly was his
top White House aide, and a major national union that supports
The strike had raised concern that the rift could damage
union support for Obama and Democrats in the run-up to the Nov.
6 presidential and congressional elections. Teacher rallies drew
support from other unions in the city and from unions in
neighboring states such as Wisconsin and Indiana.
Parents have scrambled to find care for children during the
strike but opinion polls showed most supported the union.
Some delegates said they wanted the strike to end because
they did not want to lose the support of parents inconvenienced
by a long dispute.
The contract that was agreed with Emanuel includes several
compromises, including on his key demand that teacher
evaluations be based on results of standardized tests of student
in reading, math and science. Test results will be taken into
consideration but not as much as Emanuel originally wanted.
Many Chicago public school students perform poorly on the
tests. The union distrusts Emanuel, fearing he will use the
results to close scores of schools with poor academic records
now that the strike has been called off, leading to mass teacher
"I hope he agrees to this in good faith and carries out this
contract," Lewis said.
The proposed deal calls for an average 17.6 percent pay
raise for teachers over four years and some benefit
improvements. Chicago teachers make an average of about $76,000
annually, according to the school district.