Madison Labor Groups Join Chicago Teachers Union In Pre-Labor Day Rally

After standing at the forefront of massive, unprecedented protests over collective bargaining and workers' rights on their home turf earlier this year, members of the Madison Teachers Union and other labor leaders will join forces with the Chicago Teachers Union in a pre-Labor Day, pro-teachers rally Wednesday.

NBC Chicago reports that the union will be joined by several neighbors to the north including Madison Teachers Union President Peggy Coyne, Madison Firefighters Union President Joe Conway and Building Trade South Central Wisconsin Executive Director Eric J. Cobb and others in their Southeast Side event Wednesday afternoon.

The union's blog describes the rally as an opportunity for the groups to "roll up our sleeves and discover new ways to fight back" against what they see as a nationwide blaming of the country's economic woes on public workers.

The rally arrives on the heels of a busy period of negotiations for the Chicago Teachers Union. Last Tuesday, Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard offered teachers a 2 percent raise (half the previously agreed-upon cost-of-living raise the board rejected earlier this year) in exchange for teachers agreeing to work 90 minutes longer each school day and two weeks longer each school year by the fall of 2012. He announced the formation of a task force with the aim of studying how other school districts turn longer instructional days into a reality.

But CTU President Karen Lewis balked at Brizard's plan, summarizing it as teachers "being asked to work 29 percent longer for only a 2 percent pay increase."

"To that we say thanks but no thanks," Lewis continued in a statement. "Rather than negotiating through the press and setting up political committees, CPS needs to sit down with teachers and paraprofessionals who are in our schools every day and come up with a better plan. Other school districts have found ways to lengthen the school days by good planning, and we welcome doing that as an interim step while we negotiate."

Despite previous indications otherwise, Lewis told the Chicago News Cooperative Tuesday that the union will not go on strike -- at least not during the 2011-2012 school year. But she vowed to continue to push for the teachers' 4 percent raises originally outlined in their existing contract.

Meanwhile, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, while addressing his newly-minted Youth Commission of local high school and college students in a meeting Tuesday, said he remained committed to his push for a longer school day in Chicago schools. He added that he looked forward to having a "high-class debate" with teachers on the topic, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

"Every child, every year who’s in the Chicago Public School system is cheated 10,000 minutes compared to the national average. … Just think about that accumulating over time," Emanuel said, as reported by the Sun-Times. "I cannot wait for a high-class debate and discussion and agreement about, 'Is it more math? Is it more history?' ... That is a high-class debate that we should have and a discussion and an agreement."

While the battle over wages and collective bargaining rights continues, the CTU did agree with Brizard about implementing a more rigorous curriculum for the 2012-2013 school year, the Chicago Tribune reports. During a Tuesday luncheon, Brizard announced plans to use the Common Core State Standards curriculum in Chicago Public Schools. The national initiative aims to improve performance by "favoring comprehension and analysis over rote memorization," the paper reports.

Though the state of Illinois had already been using the Common Core curriculum, CPS just got on board.

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