Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Sunday he is asking city lawyers to file an injunction to immediately end the teachers strike after the union extended the week-old walkout over sweeping education reforms.
Emanuel, President Barack Obama's former top White House aide, said in a statement on Sunday that the strike, which started last week against his initiatives to reform education, was "illegal," and that he would seek an injunction to block it.
The mayor's action reveals a rift within the Democratic Party between education reformers and organized labor, and reflects a national debate over how to reform failing inner-city schools.
"I will not stand by while the children of Chicago are played as pawns in an internal dispute within a union," Emanuel said in the statement, which came soon after a Chicago Teachers Union committee decided to continue the strike. The walkout, he added, "is over issues that are deemed by state law to be non-strikable, and it endangers the health and safety of our children."
Chicago union President Karen Lewis said about 800 union delegates met Sunday and decided to consult with rank-and-file members before voting whether to end the strike. "A clear majority wanted to stay out. That's why we are staying out," Reuters quoted her as saying at a news conference on Sunday.
Lewis complained that there was no trust of school board members. "So you have a population of people who are frightened of never being able to work for no fault of their own."
No classes were held all last week for more than 350,000 students in Chicago, and the walkout is expected to continue until at least Wednesday. The delegates plan to meet again on Tuesday for the feedback, Lewis told reporters.
"The big elephant in the room is the closing of 200 schools," Lewis added. "(Union members) are concerned about this city's decision on some level to close schools." Emanuel seemingly believes that failing schools should be closed and reopened with new staff.
However, Marielle Sainvilus, spokeswoman of Chicago Public Schools, said Lewis had misquoted the figure of school closures. She told CNN that union leaders said a few days ago that 100 schools would close, and "I'm sure it'll be another number tomorrow."
Emanuel's reforms include evaluation of teachers based on the standardized test scores of their students. "They're still not happy with the evaluations. They're not happy with the recall (provision)," Lewis said of delegates.
On Friday, the union and the mayor reached a tentative agreement with both sides making some compromises and winning some concessions. However, union leaders had stated that they would decide whether to end the strike or not over the weekend.
Opinion polls last week showed parents and voters backing the union, but it is not certain if parents and voters will also support the extension of the walkout.