Chicago Teachers Vote to Strike

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

Teachers in the third-largest school district in the nation have voted in favor of a strike, but a number of steps must take place before a walkout could possibly take place next month.

In all, close to 95% of the voting members of the Chicago Teachers Union supported the idea of a strike.  The support comes as no surprise, as 88% supported a strike in a similar vote last December.  At that time, a second vote had been called for by CTU leaders in an effort to remobilize members and hold off legal efforts made by the city or state to put an end to a potential strike, writes Juan Perez Jr. for The Chicago Tribune.

In order to strike, state law requires 75% of the union to support the idea and school officials must be given 10 days prior notice.  The union’s governing board plans to meet on Wednesday in order to determine the next steps.  If it decides to give notice concerning a potential strike, the earliest date to begin that strike would be October 11.  However, it could decide later on to strike, or it could choose not to strike if progress is seen during negotiations.

Union officials believe school officials and parents should not be shocked by the news of a strike, saying that multiple cuts have already been made in the district, which is strapped for cash.

“Educators have been angry about the school-based cuts that have hurt special education students, reduced librarians, counselors, social workers and teachers’ aides, and eliminated thousands of teaching positions,” the union said in a statement.

At the same time, contract talks for the close to 25,000 members have been ongoing for the past year.  Discussions on the topic have included a number of issues, including cost-of-living raises, pension contributions and health care.

Although a one-day walkout was staged by CTU in April which was labeled to be illegal by state authorities, the last major strike that occurred happened in 2012 during the last round of contract negotiations.  Lasting for seven days, the first strike Chicago had seen in 25 years was over evaluations, job security and classroom conditions.

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said the district believes a walkout can 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,” Bittner said in a statement.

However, both sides continue to be far apart from each other, with CTU looking to keep the 7% pension contribution that CPS had agreed to pay on behalf of teachers a number of years ago, reports Lauren FitzPatrick for The Chicago Sun Times.

CTU President Karen Lewis noted the influence of Mayor Rahm Emanuel to be “extraordinarily important” to averting the walkout.

CPS is also currently facing financial difficulties, with credit rating agencies labeling the district under “junk” status.  Much of the $5.4 billion budget used by the district relies on property taxes and borrowing, as well as $215 million in state money that is contingent upon a statewide overhaul of the pension system.