Chicago's first teachers strike in 25 years will come to an end after a week and a half when the teachers union's delegates today decided to return to school Wednesday.
Public school teachers emerged from a delegates meeting this evening and revealed that a huge majority had elected to suspend a walk-out that had dragged on for seven school days and featured bitter disagreements between teachers and the city of Chicago.
It had appeared that the strike was nearing an end Sunday, after both sides said Friday that they had settled on the framework for a new labor agreement. But to the surprise of many, the teachers decided to stay on strike Sunday, claiming that they needed more time to assess the deal.
The move infuriated Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who filed an injunction Monday to end the strike. However, Emanuel's move was not successful and it took until the delegates' meeting today for the union to call off the walk-out on their own terms.
The strike, the city's first in more than two decades, had kept some 29,000 public school teachers and 350,000 students out of the classroom. For the last week and a half, students had gone to "safe haven" sites during the school day.
The two main sticking points in the talks had been the city's new proposed teacher evaluation system and the process for re-hiring laid off teachers.
The teachers' union had argued that the proposed evaluation system would emphasize students' standardized test scores too heavily and unfairly penalize teachers, while the district countered that the system already includes input from teachers and can be adjusted to change the weighting of the test scores.
In the end that is just what the district did, reducing the emphasis on student testing and making the evaluation system more forgiving for teachers.
The negotiations featured a bitter back-and-forth battle between Emanuel, whom the teachers portrayed as a bully, and union president Karen Lewis, whom the city denounced for overseeing what they felt was an unnecessary strike.
After the teachers elected to return to school, Lewis told reporters that "we feel very positive about moving forward" and "grateful that we have a united union." Lewis said "98 percent" of the delegates at the meeting today wanted to return to school.
Lewis said that while the strike is suspended, teachers have not officially signed off on the new deal. It could take up to two weeks for the union's members to do so, she said, but the decision to end the strike was a clear-cut one.
Emanuel praised the proposed contract as one that will really help Chicago's children.
"This settlement is an honest compromise," he said at an evening press conference following the teachers' announcement. "It means returning our schools to their primary purpose: the education of our children. It means a new day and a new direction for Chicago public schools. In this contract we gave our children a seat at the table.
"In past negotiations taxpayers paid more but our kids got less," he said. "This time our taxpayers are paying less and our kids are getting more."