CHICAGO - The surprise rejection by Chicago teacher-union delegates of the contract their leaders approved sent the city's school strike into a second week and Mayor Rahm Emanuel to court.
The mayor of the third-largest U.S. city sought a temporary restraining order in Cook County Circuit Court Monday to force educators back into classrooms after their union declined to suspend Chicago's first public-school strike in a quarter century. Sunday's decision by the union means 350,000 students were out of class for at least a sixth day.
The strike that began Sept. 10 is illegal under a law that prohibits the union from striking over noneconomic issues "such as layoff and recall rights, class size, and length of the school day and school year," according to the lawsuit filed on behalf of the city's Board of Education.
"I will not stand by while the children of Chicago are played as pawns in an internal dispute within a union," Emanuel said in a statement Sunday night.
Professor Martin Malin of the Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago-Kent College of Law, said that a judge may deny the injunction because the motion shouldn't have been filed directly with the circuit court.
Unfair labor practices are in the jurisdiction of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, which has the power to seek an injunction in court, Malin said. State law "requires the Board of Education to go to the Labor Relations Board," instead of state court, according to Malin, director of the law school's Institute for Law and the Workplace.
The law provides an exception for filing with the circuit court if there is a "clear and present danger," Malin said. The Board of Education said the strike posed such a threat, citing the loss of school meals and the "risk of violence" to students when not in school.
"This is a stretch," Malin said in a phone interview. "Clear-and-present-danger injunctions are rare."
Two days after Karen Lewis, president of the 30,000-member Chicago Teachers Union, expressed hope that classes would resume Monday, the organization's House of Delegates voted to continue the walkout while it studied the proposed employment contract from the school board that Emanuel controls.
Seeking to maintain the support of parents, teachers on picket lines handed out fliers today that asked for patience.
"We understand that our work stoppage has created disruption and uncertainty in the lives of your children and families," it read. "Please trust that we are doing everything we can to encourage a speedy conclusion to our contract talks."
The decision by the union's delegates, a body that has the exclusive authority to cease or extend a strike, was a jolting development after Lewis said Sept. 14 that she was "very comfortable" with the terms of a teacher-evaluation procedure that was a key point of contention. She said the language probably would "assuage" the concerns of union members.
The delegates thought otherwise, and Lewis backtracked after the meeting Sunday at a South Side union hall.
"This is not a good deal by any stretch of the imagination," she said.
Chicago Public Schools issued details of the contract about 90 minutes before the delegates voted. The proposed three-year contract with an option for a fourth states that "student growth" will account for 25 percent of a teacher's evaluation in the first two years of the pact, and 30 percent in the third.
A "student survey will be piloted" in the second year and would contribute to 10 percent of the teacher evaluation, the school system said. The contract would provide a 16 percent pay increase over the four years.
The contract carries a price tag of about $74 million for each year, for a total of $295 million over four years. The district faces a 2013 budget deficit of $1 billion.
The strike has been the most public show of resistance to Emanuel since the former chief of staff to Democratic President Barack Obama took office 16 months ago with a pledge to restructure the city's operations. Lowering labor costs is central to Emanuel's initiatives.
The teachers struck for the first time in 25 years after negotiating with the mayor since November over his efforts to lengthen the school day and year, as well as his school board's decision to cancel a 4 percent pay increase. In 1987, union members walked out for four weeks.