Notable Past Teachers’ Strikes: 1986-1987 Strike In Downstate Homer Lasted 8 Months

Chicago News

CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago teachers went on strike for 19 days back in 1987 – the longest in Chicago history to date.

But the 1987 strike was not the longest teachers’ strike in Illinois history, or even in Illinois that year. That honor goes to downstate Homer, a town of about 1,200 in Champaign County, where teachers went on strike for eight months.

Teachers in the Homer School District walked off the job on Oct. 17, 1986. An archive Associated Press report said the teachers had asked for salary increases of about 13.5 percent over two years, while the board of education had only offered 2 percent.

During the strike, the school board fired some teachers, and also hired strike-breaking substitutes – exacerbating tensions further, according to published reports.

Teachers remained on strike for 156 school days that constituted nearly an entire school year. The strike did not end until June 23, 1987, and is still the longest in the nation’s history.

Ultimately, an agreement locked teachers into a two-year contract with salaries based on the median pay levels of nearby districts, the Chicago Tribune reported at the time. The Tribune reported that while the teachers’ salary formula had been a major sticking point in negotiations, it ultimately was never expected to have much of an impact on teachers’ pay.

Some teachers were also fired during the Homer strike, and part of the agreement was that they would be allowed to return without losing any salary or seniority, the Tribune reported.

The Champaign News-Gazette reported that even two decades after the strike, some said the town of Homer had not fully recovered.

The newspaper reported the strike more or less canceled the school year for some students and made some families either decide to move or to pay tuition for their children to attend neighboring schools. More than half of all the teachers involved in the strike ended up quitting, and all but two school board members either quit or were soon voted out, the News-Gazette reported.

Even as late as 2006, local residents told the News-Gazette that the polarized neighbors and families and led to grudges. It also kept people away from Homer, leading to a lack of growth and a drop in home values in years to come, locals told the newspaper.

The second largest teachers’ strike in U.S. history was in Ravenna, Ohio in 1981, going on for 85 school days. Teachers protested outside schools, administration buildings, and board members’ homes, and many teachers were arrested, according to Ohio History Central.

The Ravenna strike ended when the local board of education ultimately increased wages, the publication reported.

In the inner-ring Cleveland suburb of Maple Heights, teachers went on strike for 62 days during the 2002-2003 school year, according to published reports. And among larger cities, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers launched a strike that lasted seven and a half weeks in 1973, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Chicago Public Schools teachers announced a strike Wednesday night after an impasse with the city. It will be the seventh Chicago teachers’ strike in the past 40 years.

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