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Updated 05/23/12 – 10:51 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – About 5,000 Chicago Public Schools teachers rallied downtown Wednesday afternoon, before shutting down a stretch of Michigan Avenue to take their contract demands directly to CPS headquarters in the Loop.
Just hours earlier, Mayor Rahm Emanuel had said teachers deserve a strike, but said students don’t deserve a teachers’ strike.
Teachers dressed in red T-shirts packed the Auditorium Theater to capacity Wendesday afternoon as hundreds more rallied in nearby Grant Park. Teachers and union leaders worked up the crowd with a series of speeches blasting the district’s policies under Emanuel, as well as the contract proposals presented by the administration.
Those inside then joined their fellow teachers and school workers under one of the horse statues in Grant Park at Congress Parkway and Michigan Avenue, before marching up Michigan to Adams Street, then west to Chicago Public Schools headquarters.
Earlier in the day, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said teachers deserve better pay.
“Chicago teachers deserve a pay raise. They work very hard. They deserve a pay raise,” the mayor said Wednesday morning. “Chicago school children do not deserve a strike.”
CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov reports the rally is meant to energize teachers as they head into summer, and into final contract talks, which will take place after an independent fact-finder issues a report that could serve as a contract compromise on July 15.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports
While those inside the theater waited for speeches to begin, the crowd outside was already displaying a great deal of enthusiasm.
Teacher Suzanne Kosek said “I think it’s going to strengthen our membership, and let them know that they’re not alone, and it’s gonna show the whole city – including Mayor Emanuel – that we’re strong together, we’re standing together.”
Although Wednesday’s actions did not include a strike authorization vote, CTU sources said a vote could take place before the end of the school year.
The union has been hinting at a possible vote in recent weeks, most recently pointing to a recent poll which showed that 19,000 of the 21,000 who took the survey expressed dissatisfaction with the current administration proposals. If those numbers hold, that’s more than the 75 percent of membership needed to eventually authorize a strike.
Rev. Jesse Jackson joined the teachers during their march, and said he’s confident a deal can be cut to avoid a strike.
“I’m convinced it will happen, if we apply the pressure. We’re all able to resolve it at the table,” Jackson said.
Emanuel said the administration and the union have been working with an independent arbitrator to achieve a fair contract agreement, and he believes the teachers should let that process play out.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports
But union officials have said the rally is intended only to show teachers’ dissatisfaction with contract talks so far, and a strike authorization vote will not be taken on Wednesday.
“The mayor has failed to convince either the teachers of the city, or frankly the parents and public in this city, that his proposals are what’s best for students,” CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said Tuesday.
Administrators and CTU have been clashing over a number of issues, including lengthening the school day and the expansion of charter schools.
In a statement, CPS said the union “has deliberately distorted our proposals by misleading their members about the facts on the table.”
District officials said an independent fact-finder is working on a report that could serve as the basis for a contract compromise, and any talk of a strike is premature.