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How Chicago's Teachers Strike Could Impact Detroit

Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis speaks after CTU delegates voted to end their strike Tuesday, Sept 18, 2012.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Many Detroit parents probably breathed a sigh of relief when the teachers’ union strike ended in Chicago today and kids went back to school.

It was not long ago, in 2006, that Detroit’s teachers walked out of schools in the nation’s most recent major city teachers’ strike.

But the work stoppage in Chicago, and apparent victory of the teachers there, may actually embolden rather than diminish local union bosses who are considering walking.

In an interview with the Associated Press last week, Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said that he feared his union might not be cohesive enough for a strike.

He said his biggest worry was what might happen if Detroit teachers voted to strike again but failed to get full participation.

"I think many of our teachers are afraid of standing up because they fear retribution—losing their jobs," said Johnson in the article. "There is a greater emphasis on going along to get along…The worse thing of all is to have an action and then have just 10 percent of your members take part.”

Chicago's union membership includes every teacher in the city except for those in charter schools.

But one of the biggest issues in the Chicago strike was that of teacher evaluations.

The Detroit Free Press reported in August that 14 school districts—including three in metro Detroit—would be part of a pilot program “aimed at beefing up teacher evaluations, improving the quality of teachers and helping schools dismiss poor teachers more effectively.”

The districts—which include Garden City Public Schools, the Gibraltar School District and Farmington Public Schools—will spend the 2012-13 school year testing four national models for evaluating teachers.

Teachers in the DFT were supposedly on board with the reforms, but given the fact that Chicago’s teachers were able to water down most of the teacher evaluation requirements in their contract, one has to wonder if Detroit’s teachers will be as on board as they were before.

Certainly, Detroit is not Chicago and Chicago is not Detroit, but there were significant grumbles over the summer about the new contract imposed by Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts.

Although contracts are usually negotiated between DPS and the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT), the emergency manager law gave Roberts the ability to bypass the collective bargaining process and unilaterally determine the terms of employment for DPS teachers.

Johnson even refused to even call the document a "contract," instead referring to it as a "tyrannical edict."

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