Judge Stalls Bid to Halt Chicago Teachers Strike

     (CN) – A Cook County judge declined to immediately halt the teachers strike in Chicago, despite being asked to do so Monday by the city’s Board of Education.
     The board asked Judge Peter Flynn to issue a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the Chicago Teachers Union, but Flynn declined to hear the case on Monday. Instead, he scheduled a hearing for Wednesday morning. His reason for the delay was not immediately clear.
     Last Monday, about 26,000 members of the teachers union went on strike for the first time in 25 years over a variety of issues, including class size, compensation for a longer school year, staffing levels and the recall of laid-off teachers.
     The teachers strike is now in its second week, and the earliest schools could open would be Wednesday.
     On Friday, both sides reached a tentative agreement, which they sent to the union’s House of Delegates for a vote to end the strike and return students to school on Monday.
     But as of Sunday night, the union “failed to vote on the parties’ agreement, failed to vote to end the strike, and scheduled another meeting on the subject of the strike for Tuesday, September 18, 2012,” Chicago’s Board of Education claims.
     It filed a complaint Monday morning, arguing that the strike is illegal because state labor law bars the union from striking over noneconomic issues.
     But the union insists the strike is legal.
     “If this was an illegal strike, the Chicago Public Schools would have sought injunctive relief from Day One,” the union said in a statement, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The union called the lawsuit a “vindictive act” that is “consistent with Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel’s bullying behavior toward public school education.”
     The board seeks a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction putting an end to the strike and allowing the 350,000 students in the nation’s third largest school system to return to school.
     It claims the strike “constitutes a clear and present danger to the health and safety of the public,” because it denies students access to proper nutrition from school meals, a safe environment and special needs services.
     As hundreds of thousands of low-income students go hungry without school meals, the board argues, “CPS is facing massive food spoilage and the loss of approximately $1.25 million per day” in federal funding based on a government requirement that the meals be served “in school.”
     It also argues that students are safer in school, where they are less vulnerable to violence.
     “No CPS student has been a victim of gun violence in a CPS school since at least 2007,” the board argues. “Simply put, when students are not in school, they are decidedly less safe and more likely to be victims of gun violence than when they are in school.”
     And the strike has interrupted much-need services for more than 50,000 students with special needs, the board claims.
     Union President Karen Lewis said a “clear majority” of delegates refused to end the strike until they’ve had more time to review and discuss the tentative deal, which is expected to happen when they reconvene on Tuesday.
     Judge Flynn said Wednesday’s hearing, scheduled for 10:30 a.m., will be a “short hearing” to determine logistics, such as setting a time for hearing arguments, according to the Sun-Times.     

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