Reporting Jim Williams
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CHICAGO (CBS) – During the past three days, coverage of the Chicago teachers’ strike and the teachers’ various rallies have made headlines across the nation, and even Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has weighed in, but could the strike actually affect the race for president?
CBS 2’s Jim Williams tried to find out.
The teachers’ strike is the ultimate Chicago story, but it’s resonating with people across the country.
“This is far more than a labor struggle. This is a struggle for the heart and soul of public education,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said at a teachers’ rally on Wednesday.
With President Barack Obama depending on union support as he seeks re-election, and his former chief of staff, Mayor Rahm Emanuel locking horns with the Chicago Teachers Union, we wondered if the Obama administration is putting pressure on the mayor to settle the strike.
Bill Daley, another former White House chief of staff, said no.
“Those at the White House who are from Chicago would all like to see this strike settled for the purpose of kids getting back to school, but .. not for political reasons,” Daley said. “So I don’t sense there would be any pressure being put on the mayor, or the union.”
Earlier this week, Romney slammed the Chicago Teachers Union and the president over the strike.
“I am disappointed by the decision of the Chicago Teachers Union to turn its back on not only a city negotiating in good faith, but also the hundreds of thousands of children relying on the city’s public schools,” Romney said in a written statement.
“President Obama has chosen his side in this fight, sending his Vice President last year to assure the nation’s largest teachers union that ‘you should have no doubt about my affection for you and the President’s commitment to you,’” Romney added. “I choose to side with the parents and students depending on public schools to give them the skills to succeed, and my plan for education reform will do exactly that.”
But White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama “has not expressed any opinion, or made any assessment” about the strike.
“Our principal concern is for the students, and his principal concern is for the students and families who are affected by this situation. We hope that both sides are able to come together to settle this quickly, and in the best interests of Chicago’s students,” Carney said. “We certainly haven’t expressed an opinion on how it should be resolved, we’re urging the sides to resolve it.”
Emanuel accused Romney of “paying lip service” to the teachers’ strike, and attempting to embarrass the president and score political points.
A spokeswoman for Emanuel said the mayor is actually getting words of support from fellow Democratic mayors in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Sacramento, and Boston – which on Wednesday reached a contract agreement with its own teachers.
For Democratic mayors, facing shrinking revenues and angry taxpayers, but still seeking union support, it’s a difficult balancing act.
Asked how Democratic mayors avoid a major confrontation with the unions, similar to the one between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his state’s labor unions, Roosevelt University Professor Paul Green said, “I think you have to do the little tap dance.”
“Not only do the unions give them money, they also give them workers when they’re running for their election,” Green added. “So, obviously any politician doesn’t want to tick those people off.”
While Emanuel is clearly on the other side of the teachers union, his tone has been tempered during the teachers’ strike. He’s choosing his words carefully, and showing no flashes of anger.
He has a disagreement with the teachers over a new contract, and he doesn’t want a nasty, public fight with the union.