Published September 11, 2012
While the cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools have offered a 16-percent raise over four years to its striking union, the Chicago Teacher Union has requested a 35-percent pay hike and a guaranteed call-back of any educator who was laid off.
Fox News confirmed those reports by The Daily Caller and Time.com as Mitt Romney and his surrogates accused President Obama of quietly giving Chicago teachers the green-light to strike as the historic standoff affecting nearly 400,000 students entered its second day.
The White House is not taking sides in the dispute, but Republicans claim that by keeping a low profile on the issue the president is enabling the teachers unions to walk off the job. They point out that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff, is fighting against the strike -- without public support from Obama.
"Yet again, President Obama is allowing special interests to put their agenda ahead of serving our nation's students," Virginia Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell said in a statement. "This is Chicago-style politics at its worst. Even the president's former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, recognizes that this strike is wrong. It's disappointing that the president has decided to stand idly by as the Chicago Teachers Union walks out on thousands of schoolchildren."
Both Romney and running mate Paul Ryan weighed in on the clash Monday. Romney, in a statement, said Obama "has chosen his side in this fight."
Ryan, speaking at an Oregon fundraiser, said that despite his differences with Emanuel, "on this issue and this day we stand with Mayor Rahm Emanuel."
Ryan claimed the strike raises questions over where Obama's loyalties really lie.
"We stand with the children and we stand with the families and the parents of Chicago because education reform, that's a bipartisan issue. This does not have to divide the two parties. And so, we were going to ask, where does President Obama stand? Does he stand with his former Chief of Staff Mayor Rahm Emanuel, with the children and the parents, or does he stand with the union?" Ryan asked.
Members of the Chicago Teachers Union -- the AFT's oldest local -- walked off the job Monday for the first time in 25 years over issues that include pay raises, classroom conditions, job security and teacher evaluations.
They are pitted against Emanuel, who wants to extract more concessions from teachers while the school district faces a nearly $700 million deficit.
Major teacher strikes have been rare in recent years, compared with the 1960s and 1970s, when teachers went on strike frequently for better pay and improved bargaining rights. While unions generally got what they wanted in the past, they face a tougher climate today.
Chicago is the nation's third largest school district. The White House, pressed on the matter Monday, issued a brief statement about the dispute in Obama's home town.
"Our principal concern is for the students and his principal concern is for the students and families who are affected by the situation and we hope that both sides are able to come together to settle this quickly and in the best interest of Chicago's students," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday afternoon.
Obama political aides in Chicago criticized Romney for seeking advantage and pointed to his repeated campaign statements that class size does not affect a student's education.
"Playing political games with local disputes won't help educate our kids, nor will fewer teachers," said Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt.
Emanuel, Obama's former White House chief of staff, was more direct in dismissing Romney.
"While I appreciate his lip service, what really counts is what we are doing here," Emanuel told reporters. "I don't give two hoots about national comments scoring political points or trying to embarrass -- or whatever -- the president."
That didn't stop a wave of critical statements pouring out of the Romney campaign.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said that by "refusing to condemn" the strike, Obama "has sent a clear message that the hundreds of thousands of children who are suffering because of this strike take a backseat to his political allies."
Julio Fuentes, a member of Romney's education policy group, called the strike "just yet another example of President Obama refusing to lead on matters of pressing concern to our nation."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.