Union leaders representing thousands of striking Chicago public school teachers returned to the negotiating table Saturday with the school district to work out the details of a deal to end a week-long walkout in one of the nation's largest districts.
Both sides have said they've arrived at an outline to resolve their months-long contract dispute, which came down to two main sticking points: a new teacher evaluation system and union demands that laid-off teachers get preference for new jobs. The dispute in Chicago is being closely watched around the nation because of its implications for other labor disputes at a time when unions have been losing ground.
Saturday's talks were taking place at the offices of union attorney Robert Bloch, who told the Chicago Sun-Times there was still a lot of work to be done, though agreement has been reached on the most contentious issues.
The union hopes to present the wording of a deal to its House of Delegates for review on Sunday. If they approve it, students could be back in class on Monday.
On his way into the talks, Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey was optimistic that timetable was still possible.
"We're hopeful that we can do it but frankly like I said, the devil is in the details of this contract and we want it in writing," he told the Sun-Times. "We're going to go in today and hammer (out) the details."
Out on the streets, hundreds of teachers and their families were streaming toward Chicago's Union Park for a midday rally. The atmosphere was festive, even if a deal had yet to be presented in writing.
In announcing a framework had been achieved, union leaders emphasized Friday that they and their members needed to see it in writing before they would call off the strike.
"They are suspicious, you have to understand," union President Karen Lewis told reporters Friday after a meeting with nearly 800 members of the union's House of Delegates. "We have been a little burnt by the (school) board in the past."
With things still somewhat up in the air, Saturday's rally was shaping up to be a show of force for organized labor after a string of setbacks, with participants coming from Wisconsin, Minnesota and perhaps as far away as Boston.
Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association, said he expects a couple hundred Wisconsin teachers to attend Saturday's rally. Buses were being organized to take teachers from Madison and Milwaukee and others planned to drive separately or take the train, he said.
"People are going to go down and celebrate that the teachers union in Chicago stood up to the corporate reform agenda," said Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association. "I think they've come out with some real victories for the kids of Chicago."
Wisconsin teachers had another reason to rally: A judge on Friday struck down nearly all of the state law championed by Gov. Scott Walker that had effectively ended collective bargaining rights for most public workers. Walker's administration immediately vowed to appeal, while unions, which have vigorously fought the law, declared victory.
Teachers union leaders from three of Minnesota's largest school districts also were organizing a bus to Chicago for their members to show their support for their colleagues there.
The plan was for the bus to leave the Twin Cities about 4 a.m. Saturday, drive about seven hours, attend the rally and return home the same day, said Julie Blaha, president of the suburban Anoka-Hennepin School District's local of Education Minnesota, the state's largest teachers union. Blaha already had travelled to Chicago to assist her striking colleagues, "doing whatever they need us to do."
Members of the Boston Teachers Union may make the trip on their own, said President Richard Stutman. The group already voted to send Chicago a token donation of money and took out an ad in the Chicago Sun-Times to express their support of striking teachers there.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has blasted the union for engaging in a "strike of choice," sounded optimistic Friday, saying "the tentative framework is an honest and principled compromise that is about who we all work for: the students."
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.
Until this week, Chicago teachers had not walked out since 1987, when they were on strike for 19 days.