NYT Gives Emanuel’s Side on Chicago Strike

Labor actions like the current strike by the Chicago Teachers Union usually involves two sides presenting very different takes on the important issues that separate them. The New York Times story on the strike (9/10/12) by Monica Davey  gives a fairly comprehensive account of what the school district thinks about its offers to the union. But the union’s side of the story is hard to find.

Chicago teachers on strike (Exposing the Truth)

Chicago teachers on strike.

The Times calls it “a dispute over wages, job security and teacher evaluations.” That isn’t false, but that framing makes it seem like teachers are looking to protect a narrow set of interests. If you read the union’s side of the story, you know they are stressing a different set of issues–from class size to charter expansion to enhanced social services in the schools.

The second paragraph stresses the problems this will cause for parents (presumably those who aren’t themselves teachers):

Coming as the school year had barely begun for many, the impasse and looming strike were expected to affect hundreds of thousands of families here, some of whom had spent the weekend scrambling to rearrange work schedules, find alternative programs and hire baby sitters if school was out for some time.

When it’s time to talk specifics, the Times goes right to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office:

Late Sunday, Mr. Emanuel told reporters that school district officials had presented a strong offer to the union, including what some officials described as what would amount to a 16 percent raise for many teachers over four years–and that only two minor issues remained. “This is totally unnecessary, it’s avoidable and our kids do not deserve this,” Mr. Emanuel said, describing the decision as “a strike of choice.”

Well, that could be his offer, according to “some officials”–and maybe it would “amount to” such a raise for “many teachers.” Or it could be something else. Some union officials claim Emanuel canceled a previously negotiated pay increase. In any event, part of Emanuel’s plan is to lengthen the school day by 20 percent; does this mean that teachers are being asked to work longer for less money?

(Read this exchange between ABC host Terry Moran and political science professor Corey Robin and Doug Henwood of the Left Business Observer on whether these salary figures should be taken at face value. The short answer is no.)

The Times goes on:

Negotiations have taken place behind closed doors since November, concerning wages and benefits, whether laid-off teachers should be considered for new openings, extra pay for those with more experience and higher degrees, and evaluations. District officials said the teachers’ average pay is $76,000 a year.

When you see references to “evaluations,” you should know this is about tying teacher evaluations–and hence a teacher’s job–to student performance on tests. There is considerable controversy over the validity of various testing/evaluation schemes.

And does that salary figure represent a teacher’s wages, or salary plus benefits like health care and retirement? I haven’t a clue, but a CBS reporter a href=””>found that the union pegs the average salary at about $5,000 less than what the school district claims.

This strike could have national political implications–just like the fight in Wisconsin over collective bargaining. This means the story is important, and at times can look pretty complex. This Times account gives readers very little information; what they do give makes it seem like Chicago teachers walked away from what “amounts to” a very generous offer for “many teachers.”

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.