CHICAGO – As Chicago teachers walked the picket lines for a second day, they were joined by many of the very people who are most inconvenienced by their strike: the parents who must now scramble to find babysitters or a place for children to pass the time.
Mothers and fathers – some with their kids in tow – are marching with the teachers. Other parents are honking their encouragement from cars or planting yard signs that announce their support in English and Spanish.
Unions are still hallowed organizations in much of Chicago, and the teachers union holds a special place of honor in many households where children o
ften grow up to join the same police, firefighter or trade unions as their parents and grandparents.
“I’m going to stay strong, behind the teachers,” said the Rev. Michael Grant, who joined teachers on the picket line Tuesday. “My son says he’s proud, ‘You are supporting my teacher.’ ”
But one question looming over the contract talks is whether parents will continue to stand behind teachers if students are left idle for days or weeks. That ticking clock could instill a sense of urgency in the ongoing negotiations.
Mary Bryan, the grandmother of two students at Shoop Academy on the city’s far South Side, supports the teachers because she sees “the frustration, the overwork they have.” A protracted labor battle, she acknowledged, would “test the support” of many families.
Parents “should stick with them, but they might demand teachers go back to work,” Bryan added.
To win friends, the union has engaged in something of a publicity campaign, telling parents repeatedly about problems with schools and the barriers that have made it more difficult to serve their kids.
They cite classrooms that are stifling hot without air conditioning, important books that are unavailable, and supplies as basic as toilet paper that are sometimes in short supply.
Nearly half of people surveyed in a telephone poll Monday by the Chicago Sun-Times said they supported the teachers union, compared with 39 percent who oppose the strike. Almost three-quarters regarded Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s efforts as average, below average or poor.
On Tuesday, union President Karen Lewis said negotiations were still far apart, with the two sides having agreed to just six of 48 articles in the contract. She said it would be “lunacy” to expect an agreement before today.