Chicago Teachers Overwhelmingly Vote to Approve Strike

The tabulation of the votes is still ongoing, but the Chicago Teachers Union officials are projecting that they have enough votes to authorize a strike. According to a new law, passed in 2011, 75% of union membership must vote affirmatively for a strike, for the union to be able to authorize the action. The votes of those who abstain are counted as a no.

Over the weekend, as the count was going on, both the Chicago Tribune and NBC 5 Chicago affiliate reported that the proportion of members who voted “yes” was high enough to make it more than likely that the CTU would be able to hit the 75% threshold required. This was confirmed by the Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey, who said that the vote was going heavily for the strike.

No news yet on how the vote counts will effect an outstanding complaint lodged by the union, to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, against Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard. The complaint alleges that he illegally interfered with the vote. On the eve of the three days of voting, Brizard sent an email to the union membership, calling on them to hold off voting, thus putting the pressure on the union leadership to delay the measure until August. The complaint said that Brizard’s email was a coercive move, meant to discourage members from voting.

CPS officials denied that the email was inappropriate.

However, the Communications Chief for the Chicago Public Schools, Becky Carroll said that the email was entirely within the scope of the chief executive officer’s responsibilities, and did not constitute interference or an unfair labor practice in any way. She added that the information contained in the email was entirely true, and Brizard was merely exercising his right to communicate it to the union membership, especially since there are allegations that the union leadership mischaracterized the latest contract proposal by the CPS.

According to the CTU leadership, the vote was held now because the union representatives wanted additional leverage to bring to the negotiating table with the CPS. The groups are mired in an ongoing, and acrimonious negotiation process over the new teachers’ employment contract. The outcome of the vote doesn’t mean that the union will be going on strike in the near future. Any kind of action is unlikely to take place before the fall.

The contract negotiations between the CPS and the Chicago teachers have drawn attention from groups all over the country, who view it as a test case for how far education reform could be taken in a jurisdiction that’s dominated by both Democratic voters and Democratic politicians.