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Chicago Teachers on Strike: Just Be Glad You Don't Live in Florida

Chicago teachers are entering the third day of their labor strike, leaving kids without classes after only four active days in the school year. "I've been picketing for four hours, from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30, and we have a rally downtown at 2:30 p.m.," said Laura G., a teacher on the city's southwest side, while marching yesterday. She says the teacher's union's older organizers dragged out some dusty old signs from the last strike, in 1987, to hit the pavement once again in search of more pay and better treatment.

Meanwhile, in Florida... the Broward Teachers' Union says its teachers haven't gotten a raise at all in four years, and unions in our state aren't allowed to strike.

The Broward union is encouraging teachers and support staff to wear red to school tomorrow, to show their solidarity with the (Red! Commie! Socialist!) Chicago strikers. Apparently, this is still legal under Florida law.

The Chicago school district, under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, has been proposing a 2 percent yearly increase in pay for teachers, which the union says isn't enough. It cites a private study that said the teachers should get a 16 percent raise.

Broward teachers have been frozen at the same pay level for years and lobbied the district again last night to reallocate money from the reserve fund to teacher pay to allow them to finally get a raise. Broward teachers have been without a contract for months, but unlike their counterparts in Illinois, they don't get to strike to bring attention to their demands.

Things in education are shitty nationwide. In Chicago, teachers have been asked to stick around for an extra hour per day allocated toward the arts, writing, and physical education. But that doesn't work when there aren't enough art teachers to go around -- Laura, the Chicago teacher, says her entire sixth-grade class has to sit around in the gymnasium for an hour a day because no one's being paid to instruct them.

But Chicago looks like heaven to a Florida teacher. Not only is the state more friendly to organized labor but pay is astronomically better up north. A Broward union official cites the average Illinois teacher's salary as $64,500. The number down here? It's $45,732.

Teachers in Florida are aghast at a recent letter that Rick Scott sent to the state's educators. "The selfless practice of teaching means that you share knowledge, encouragement, and compassion with your students on a daily basis," he panders, before basically telling them all to stop whining about "teaching to the test."

Broward's own superintendent, Robert Runcie, came from Chicago Public Schools last year and brought some administrative staff with him. Labor disputes are common no matter where the district, but he's certainly had more bargaining power down here with a union that isn't really allowed to make much noise. And the Chicago teachers know that with the recent anti-labor steps taken in Wisconsin, they could end up looking like Florida before too long. They're gonna picket while they can.

Another thing the Chicago teachers are demanding? Air conditioning. At least that's one thing we've got on them.

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Stefan Kamph
Contact: Stefan Kamph

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