On Tuesday afternoon, Brian Caref and his wife—who is in her 11th year as a teacher at the Chicago Public Schools—were debating how long the teachers' union strike in that city might last. Four of their six children attend Chicago schools. (Two are too young to matriculate.)
After reading a New York Times article indicating that only six of 49 clauses in the teachers' contract had been agreed upon, Caref concluded that it could be a three-week work stoppage. Originally, his wife had predicted that teachers would be out only through the rest of this week.
While neither of them has an inside track on the length of the strike, they do know one thing: either way, the family of eight will feel the pinch, he said. Caref's job working at a freight broker provides 40 percent of their income; his wife's job contributes the rest. Their savings will be drained if the strike is measured in weeks rather than days.
Another parent, Silvia Rogel, has a 1st grader in Chicago Public Schools and is concerned for the many families who have no alternative child care arrangements when schools are closed. Although she does not fit that category, Rogel knows parents are scrambling to care for their children, and keep their jobs.
"It's very disconcerting to me that this is happening. I don't agree that the teachers should be out of school, but I completely understand them," she said. "It's definitely impacting the kids, because they aren't learning."
A longer strike—with the child-care issues it involves for families—could mean parents' jobs are imperiled if their employers are not understanding about the need for flexibility, Rogel believes.
"I think the city needs to take a bigger stance and say,'What's really on the table here? Are we really not negotiating, or being less likely to negotiate, because there's another actor here—private schools, or [other non-union] schools? Does that have something to do with the position of the city?" Rogel asked.
(Caref agrees, saying the city's position seeks to move the school system toward privatization. He also believes it's a city-wide attack on unions and the middle class.)
Rogel maintains that Chicago Public Schools have many great teachers. "They sacrifice a lot, and they wouldn't be out there fighting if it wasn't the right thing to do," she said.