Thousands of school teachers in the US city of Chicago have gone on strike for a second day, putting a strain on Rahm Emanuel, the city’s Democratic mayor who formerly served as chief aide to President Barack Obama.
Up to 26,000 teachers and their supporters took to the streets during the Monday evening rush hour after failing to reach a settlement demanding better pay, health benefits and more resources to serve students.
David Vitale, Chicago School Board president, said board and union negotiators were yet to bargain on two of the biggest issues, performance evaluations or recall rights for laid-off teachers.
Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, confirmed this was due to the district not changing its proposals over the strike action which was voted for by 90 per cent of the city’s staff body earlier this year.
The chaos has provided an unwelcome distraction for Emanuel in a year crucial to political campaigning for the US presidential election.
Chicago is the third-largest US school district and the walkout has created a problem for parents who have been left struggling to place their children with alternative supervision.
Up to 350,000 children in Obama’s hometown have been put at risk and city officials admitted that unsupervised children living in areas with a history of violence were exceptionally vulnerable.
It is likely that the ramifications of the strike will affect districts engaged in similar debates at a time when labour unions have been losing ground nationwide.
Eric Hanuskek, a senior fellow in education at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University said: “This is a long-term battle that everyone’s going to watch. Other teachers unions in the United States are wondering if they should follow suit.”
Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, was quick to criticise Chicago teachers for turning their backs on students and accused Obama of siding with them.
Obama’s spokesperson responded by attesting that he had not taken sides but had urged both the teachers and the city to settle as soon as possible.