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Teachers strike should trigger debate about a strike ban, mayor's floor leader says

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Chicago's first teachers strike in 25 years should trigger a debate about whether or not teachers should be allowed to strike, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's City Council floor leader said Wednesday.

Ald. Pat O'Connor (40th) said he's not suggesting that teachers are as important to public safety as police officers and firefighters, who are legally prohibited from striking.

Nor is he certain that the Il. General Assembly would go along with a no-strike clause for teachers, who have historically held great sway in Springfield.

But, O'Connor said the inconvenience that parents were forced to endure for seven days in making alternative arrangements for their kids and worrying about their safety makes it a "debate worth having."

"The anxiety leading up to the strike and the week they were off--the disruption it caused and the need for government and our constituents to scramble to find ways to keep their children safe--it's worth discussing if you can avoid that," said O'Connor, former longtime chairman of the City Council's Education Committee.

"I'm not sure it's something you would mandate teachers can't do. It's not like police and fire where it impacts public safety. But, any time you can have a public dialogue about how we can make our childrens' lives better, those are discussions worth having."

He added, "The fact that this strike was resolved in a week and the economics of the situation were pretty much resolved before the strike, my conclusion is we could have avoided it."

O'Connor noted that, in the late `80s and early `90s, a string of strikes by Chicago teachers prompted state lawmakers to "change the governance" of schools, paving the way for the advent of local school councils.
This strike, could trigger a debate about the right to strike, he said.

Robert Bloch, an attorney representing the Chicago Teachers Union, said the suggestion that teachers should be prohibited from striking has been raised by "out of state organizations" that came here last year to "try and make Illinois like Wisconsin and limit collective bargaining rights, the right to strike" and other restrictions.

Unlike police and fire, Bloch noted that teachers don't have binding arbitration that allows them to arbitrate "every issue affecting their terms and conditions of employment."

"They've already restricted dramatically the issues over which the [teachers] union has the right to bargain and strike," Bloch said.

"If they were simply to take away the right to strike given all the other restrictions, it would undermine the union's ability to represent its members. I would hope that Illinois won't become like those other states that don't give their public employees full bargaining rights."

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