Chicago Public School (CPS) students started classes this week under the threat of a potential strike.
Leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), which represents nearly 30,000 teachers and support staff, have indicated that a strike is possible as soon as October, 2016. The official bulletin of the union stated in August that CTU members were so angry that they were, “ready to strike now, even before school is set to open.”
Nearly 400,000 students are taught by close to 22,000 teachers at Chicago’s 660 Public Schools, according to their internal figures. The teachers have not had a working contract since June 30, 2015, when the contract that was negotiated after the 2012 strike expired. This week starts the second year that the teachers would be in the classroom without a negotiated contract.
“We will not work another year without a contract, so negotiations with the Board are a priority and a major part of the context in which we begin the school year,” CTU’s President Karen Lewis said in a back-to-school letter released Monday. Lewis was careful to also say that, “the other major part is the education of our city’s nearly 400,000 public school students.”
CPS CEO Forrest Claypool has asserted that the district is doing what it can to reach an agreement that takes into account what he has described as “deteriorating finances.” He has blamed the state’s legislature for the district’s $480 million budget gap. “Chicago has been cut by hundreds of millions of dollars by Springfield,” Claypool said. The teachers are vehemently opposed to a proposal from the district that would require them to pay an additional 7 percent of their salary into their pensions. The union has also demanded caps on class sizes and a moratorium on charter expansions.
The district and the union made numerous attempts to hash out a new agreement over the past year, to no avail. The union unanimously rejected what the school called a “serious offer” in February, asserting that the teachers did not believe that the district would honor its promises to “stabilize” finances. Lewis, at the time, cited a “lack of trust in CPS” and the district’s “weasel language” during contract talks. The harsh language from both sides revealed just how far apart the district and its teachers were on issues ranging from healthcare to pensions to charter schools.
The union again rejected recommendations from an independent report that was commissioned by both the district and the union in April. Many believed that the failure to reach an agreement with jointly commissioned third-party consultants meant that a strike was all but inevitable.
Under Illinois state law, the union must file a 10-day strike notice with the state’s labor board, which may happen in early October, according to the Chicago Tribune, when the union’s House of Delegates meets to vote on a strike authorization.
A strike would be the second under Rahm Emanuel’s tenure as mayor. The teachers went on a strike in the fall of 2012, which kept kids out of the classrooms for a week.
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