The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) authorized its members to go on strike Monday, with 95 percent of participating members supporting the move to strike if contract negotiations fail, according to reports.
Under Illinois state law, the union must file a 10-day strike notice with the state’s labor board, meaning that Tuesday, Oct. 11, will be the first day that the teachers can legally walk out of classrooms, reports ABC 7, Chicago. A strike date could be set by the union, as a negotiation strategy, but as of now no date has been established.
Chicago Public Schools (CPS) released a statement, saying that a strike could be averted. “A strike is a very serious step that affects the lives of thousands of parents and children, and we hope that before taking the final steps toward a strike, the CTU’s leadership works hard at the bargaining table to reach a fair deal,” a CPS spokeswoman told the Chicago Tribune following the vote.
Leaders of the CTU, which represents nearly 30,000 teachers and support staff, indicated over the summer that a strike is possible as soon as October.
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.” While the union did not walk out on students, they are now one step closer to doing so.
Nearly 400,000 students are taught by close to 22,000 teachers at Chicago’s 660 Public Schools. 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 in early September. Lewis was careful to also say that, “the other major part is the education of our city’s nearly 400,000 public school students.”
The district is doing what it can to reach an agreement that takes into account “deteriorating finances,” CPS CEO Forrest Claypool explained. Claypool blames 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 seven percent of their salary into pensions. The union has also demanded caps on class sizes and a moratorium on charter expansions. [RELATED: Chicago Teachers On The Brink Of Keeping 400,000 Students At Home]
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 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 reveals wide-ranging differences on healthcare, pensions and charter schools.
The union is rejecting recommendations from an independent report that commissioned by both the district and the union in April, making a strike likely if not inevitable.
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