The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) took a big step towards a strike Monday morning, announcing its members voted decisively to authorize a strike in order to receive a new contract.
The vote was conducted Wednesday through Friday of last week. With 92 percent voter turnout, 96.5 percent of voters backed the strike, meaning a decisive 88 percent supermajority of all Chicago teachers endorsed such a move. That’s well above the 75 percent threshold necessary for the strike to be legal under state law.
The vote doesn’t mean a strike will necessarily happen, but it means union leaders will be able to call one if they believe it is necessary. Mandatory mediation efforts will have to be made before the strike will become legal under state and federal law, so the earliest a strike is expected to come is next March. If the strike happens, it will affect more than 400,000 public school students in the city. (RELATED: Chicago Teachers Have Worse ACT Scores Than Illinois Students)
The threatened strike is a high-pressure tactic intended to menace Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has become a bitter foe of teachers unions because of his various efforts to reign in costs and improve outcomes in the city’s low-performing schools.
“Rahm, Forrest Claypool—listen to what teachers and educators are trying to tell you: do not cut the schools anymore, do not make the layoffs that you have threatened; instead, respect educators and give us the tools we need to do our jobs,” says CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey in a statement.
Chicago’s teachers last struck in 2012, canceling seven days of classes in a dispute over the length of the school day, layoffs, and the role of performance evaluations. That strike finally ended with the negotiation of a new three-year contract which expired earlier this year.
This time around, contract negotiations are more directly about money. CTU is pushing for an across-the-board pay bump, a drop in class sizes (which will require hiring thousands of new teachers), and the hiring of hundreds of additional school nurses, psychologists, and social workers.
School administrators and city officials, though, say these demands will cost over a billion dollars and are simply unfeasible. In fact, they warn that Chicago’s public schools will instead likely have to lay off thousands in order to finance retiree pensions. Last summer, a layoff of 1,400 people was made for just that purpose, and thousands more are expected, perhaps within the next two months. The overall budget deficit for Chicago schools is about $500 million. (RELATED: Chicago Fires 1,400 Teachers To Finance Extravagant Pensions)
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