To build momentum early on, the mayor offered cash incentives for schools whose teachers defied the union by voting to opt out of their contracts and extend the school day a year before it would be implemented across the district.
At the same time Emanuel was promoting a longer school day, he endorsed rescinding the 4 percent raises owed teachers in their current deal, saying it was necessary to close an estimated $750 million budget gap.
Emanuel’s tough talk on education reform and his willingness to work with national groups whose reform efforts undermined organized labor, galvanized the teachers union and its members. Joined by members of Chicago’s Occupy movement, union teachers staged school sit-ins, picketed school board meetings, and chanted “fight” and “strike” in a rally of thousands at the city’s downtown Auditorium Theater in May.
Weeks later, more than 90 percent of the union’s 25,000-plus members authorized a strike if a new contract could not be reached.
With momentum on their side, teachers demanded higher pay for working that extra hour, entering negotiations demanding a 30 percent raise over two years. But as contract talks heated up, union leaders made it clear they would be willing to forgo such raises in exchange for less-restrictive job evaluations and for establishing a recall procedure for teachers who were laid off as a result of school closings, consolidations and turnarounds.