CHICAGO (AP) — The city's nearly weeklong teachers strike appeared headed toward a resolution Friday after negotiators emerged from marathon talks to say they had achieved a "framework" that could end the walkout in time for students to return to class Monday.
Both sides were careful not to describe the deal as a final agreement and declined to release the terms. They expected to spend the weekend working out details before union delegates are asked to vote Sunday on whether to call off the strike.
School Board President David Vitale said the "heavy lifting" was over after long hours of talks placed "frameworks around all the major issues."
Union President Karen Lewis agreed, saying there were no "main sticking points right now." But she reiterated that there is also no contract yet and the strike remains in full effect. Despite the apparent progress, she said, the union is still suspicious of the board after being burned in the past.
The walkout has been a potent display of union power at a time when organized labor has been losing ground around the nation. The negotiations have been closely followed by many other unions and school districts that face the same issues about the future of urban education, particularly teacher evaluations linked to student test scores and the threat of school closures.
In a statement, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the framework "is an honest and principled compromise" that "preserves more time for learning in the classroom, provides more support teachers to excel at their craft and gives principals the latitude and responsibility to build an environment in which our children can succeed."
Robert Bloch, an attorney for the union, called it "one of the most difficult labor contracts negotiated in decades." He said many of the core issues had been worked out "but not all of them."
Shortly after negotiators reported the progress, Lewis entered a meeting of union delegates. The delegates could be seen through windows cheering and applauding, some of them on their feet and pumping their fists in the air.
Journalists were not allowed inside the meeting, but delegates said later that the cheering was not for a deal but because the negotiating team had promised there would be no agreement until everything was in writing.
"I think we want to go back to the classroom, but we are willing to do whatever we need to," said Adam Heenan, a delegate and teacher at Curie Metro High School. "We are prepared to go back to teach. We are prepared to continue to walk."
Still, both sides sounded more optimistic than at any point since teachers hit the picket line Monday.
When the contract offer is complete, the union's bargaining committee expected to recommend the contract proposal to the membership, Bloch said.
"And if we have been listening to the membership well and have heard their concerns, then that agreement will be accepted by our membership overall," he said.
The walkout, the first by Chicago teachers in 25 years, canceled five days of school for more than 350,000 public school students who had just returned from summer vacation.
At one point, the district offered a 16 percent raise over four years — far beyond what most American employers have offered in the aftermath of the Great Recession. But teacher evaluations and job-security measures stirred the most intense debate.
The union sought a plan for laid-off instructors to get first dibs on job openings and for an evaluation system that does not rely heavily on student test scores.
The district offered compromises, including provisions that would have protected tenured teachers from dismissal in the first year of the evaluations and created an appeals process. Another proposal offered laid-off teachers the first right to jobs matching their qualifications at schools that absorb the children from their closed school.
It wasn't immediately clear if the union had accepted those provisions. Continued...