CHICAGO (PAI) — Management demands to load $2,000 in increased health care costs on each worker each year, plus its insistence on higher workloads, forced teachers at Chicago’s city/community colleges into their first strike in 27 years.

The strike began in mid-October. It idled 550 full-time faculty, 200 full-time and 150 part-time non-teaching professionals, and 500 campus police officers. The Cook County College Teachers Union, AFT Local 1600, represents the teachers. About 60,000 students attend the city colleges, and many of them are honoring the picket lines.

CCCTU’s old contracts expired July 15, and 16 months of bargaining, before and afterwards, were fruitless, union President Perry Buckley said after the 700-23 strike authorization vote in early October. A federal mediator hosted several bargaining sessions.

Chicago’s Community College Board seeks a 400 percent raise in health care premiums, lower coverage and higher deductibles and co-pays. Buckley calls that “catastrophic for our members.”

The college board also demands elimination of early retirement and is seeking a new “publish or perish” provision for teachers — unusual, if not unique, at community colleges. Buckley, a 24-year-veteran professor, also said the board ignored CCCTU’s proposals for relief from overwork, while seeking a large increase in teaching hours, from 12 to 15, for the college faculty.

And the board wants very low pay for CCCTU’s newest unit, representing “part-time professionals.” Those tutors, mentors and coordinators make as little as $7 an hour with no benefits. Buckley called it “shameful” to have those workers, with higher degrees, working with students and “making Wal-Mart salaries.” He said the board has offered them only a 25-cent-an-hour raise.

Jason Johnston, 23, a sophomore at Harold Washington College, told the Chicago Sun-Times that he was supporting the teachers. “I’m outraged by the attacks on my teachers,” he said, adding that he was also “outraged by attacks on students” who support the teachers. The administration threatened the students by saying they would fail or be denied financial aid if they honored the picket line. It has since backed down from that threat, but it is still encouraging students to cross the lines.

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