It was a major accomplishment in Chicago that teachers who used to walk out frequently had, for the past 25 years, managed to avoid a strike. But it's not surprising, many experts say, that things would fall apart now.
"I think it is a perfect storm," says Tim Knowles, head of the University of Chicago's Urban Education Institute. He says issues in Chicago — of tying teacher pay to student test scores, job security, longer school days and expanding charter schools, for example — are not unlike issues unions have grappled with in other cities, from New York to Los Angeles.
Teachers in Chicago walked off the job Monday after contract negotiations fell through, leaving 400,000 students in the nation's third-largest district shut out of their classrooms.
Contract talks broke down late last night, and by Monday morning Chicago public school teachers, many wearing red T-shirts and carrying signs, were picketing around the city for the first time in a quarter-century.
Twenty-five thousand Chicago teachers are planning to walk off the job Monday if they don't have a contract by midnight Sunday. As the Democrats look to unions to help them get out the vote, a strike by Chicago teachers might just put a crimp in those plans.
On Friday during rush hour, a handful of parents and students stood on a bridge over the Eisenhower Expressway, holding signs that read, "Honk if you support teachers." Among them is Rhoda Gutierrez, who has two children in a Chicago public elementary school.
Now that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is in charge of raising really big dollars for a superPAC that supports President Obama, wealthy Democrats all over the country may be eyeing their phones nervously.
Emanuel, the former Obama White House chief of staff, is known for not taking no for an answer and for aggressively going after what he wants.
Indeed, he's a ferocious fundraiser who gets to the point, often throwing in an epithet or two for emphasis, just the sort of rainmaker needed by Priorities USA Action, the pro-Obama superPAC that desperately needs cash.