The President of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), Karen Lewis, has confirmed that negotiations between educators and the Chicago Board of Education are not going well.
If a contract agreement is not reached by February 1st, massive teacher layoffs are possible to plug a $480 million budget gap that state lawmakers blame on a cash-starved pension system. According to CBS, Lewis asserted that in the face of layoffs, teachers would go on strike. “If any of our members are laid off, we intend to take to the streets,” Lewis said. “Remember, good working conditions are also good learning conditions for our students.”
Illinois law requires that a “fact-finding” stage, which allows all involved parties to air their grievances with each other and jointly pursue remediation, lasts for 105 days before a strike can begin. With the deadline now set for February 1st, the earliest teachers could legally strike would be mid-May. The last day of classes in Chicago is scheduled for June 21st, a month after the launch of a potential teachers’ strike.
For its part, the government did not comment on the likelihood of layoffs. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that district spokeswoman, Emily Bittner, would only say that negotiators are:
“… focused on reaching the best agreement for Chicago’s teachers and children, and they’re working diligently in good faith to arrive at a fair contract that would prevent midyear teacher layoffs.”
Many of Chicago’s teachers, however, remain pessimistic and are bracing for pink slips.
Bittner, while promising to secure the best deal for teachers and students, also reiterated that officials in Springfield are attempting to end what they see as an inequity in the state’s education system. Chicago students comprise 20% of the public-school student population in Illinois, but they receive 15% of the state’s education funding.
The drama comes at a time when Chicago’s embattled mayor, Rahm Emanuel, is on the ropes. Many organizations and activists have been calling for his resignation over his administration’s handling of the death of Laquan McDonald, an African-American teenager who was shot sixteen times by a Chicago police officer. Video of the shooting, captured by a police cruiser’s dashboard camera, was released months after the incident took place at the behest of independent investigators. Critics have insinuated that city officials knowingly concealed the footage to safeguard the mayor during a contentious reelection campaign.
The CTU is among the chorus of voices demanding that Emanuel step down. The Chicago Sun-Times notes that Emanuel’s political woes might compel him to avoid a teachers strike. “The mayor is struggling for legitimacy politically, and one of the things he campaigned on is that there wouldn’t be another teachers strike… I think the only way to achieve his political ends is to try to find an agreement for this union,” said the vice president of CTU, Jesse Sharkey.
Major negotiations took place on Martin Luther King Day. Sharkey said that the Board of Education’s promise of a “serious offer” to resolve the impending crisis stems from the political woes of Emanuel, who would like to avoid yet another vexing issue that threatens to derail his administration.