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Chicago Teachers' Union Stages One-Day Strike Today

UPDATED

Hundreds of Chicago teachers are expected to picket across the city on Friday as part of a one-day strike to call attention to school funding, poverty, the school-to-prison-pipeline, and other social issues.

Picketing for what is billed as a "Day of Action" was expected to start at 6:30 a.m., Central Standard Time, with teach-ins, rallies, and other events continuing through 6:30 p.m.

Union members and supporters are calling attention to a number of issues, including public funding for K-12 and higher education and the expansion of charter schools in Chicago.

The union has garnered support from the Service Employees International Union Healthcare Illinois, Fight For 15, the coalition advocating for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 for fast food workers, and others.

The March 23 vote to hold the April 1 Day of Action was 486 to 124—hardly unanimous—and Chicago media outlets have cited teachers who appear conflicted about the strike and its purpose. 

Chicago District CEO Forrest Claypool has called the action an "illegal strike," but so far the district has said it would not punish teachers who did not show up to work beyond docking their day's pay.

Teachers who do not join the picketing on Friday could also face sanctions from the union, including being fined or temporarily expelled, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Claypool has urged teachers to show up to work or to one of the 200 or so contingency sites at libraries, park facilities, and churches that the district will use to provide food and activities for students.  

The union and the district have been locked in a stalemate over a labor agreement that expired last June. The union rejected a "serious" offer from the district in early February.

While the majority of eligible union membership voted to authorize a strike last December, it was the district's announcement in March to add three furlough days this fiscal year that immediately preceded the union's vote to approve the "Day of Action." 

The furlough notice followed a CPS threat to end the long-standing practice of picking up the bulk of the union members' pension contributions. The district has since walked back somewhat on the pension pickup.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has called the strike "an abuse of power."  And Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said that he understands the union's frustration with Springfield, the state capitol, but that the union should "not take it out on our students."

The union is expected to be joined by students from Chicago State University and the Black Youth Project for a teach-in at the university's rotunda. A noon rally is also expected to feature union president Karen Lewis and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten is also expected to appear at a teach-in at Northeastern Illinois University between 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. 

[UPDATE(4:59 P.M.): The school district announced during the day Friday that it had filed a complaint against the union with the Illinois Education Relations Board. The district argued that any strike, no matter the reason, was illegal until fact-finding over the labor contract had been completed in accordance with state law.

The district said in the filing that it was seeking a cease and desist order, damages, legal fees, and sanctions against the union.    

The war of words between the teachers' union and Gov. Rauner continued during the day. Earlier on Friday, the Governor issued a statement calling the strike "shameful" and arguing that the city's children were "the victims in this raw display of political power."

"Walking out on kids in the classroom, leaving parents in the lurch and thumbing their nose at taxpayers—it's the height of arrogance from those we've entrusted with our children's futures," Rauner said. "By breaking the law in Chicago and forcing passage of a bad law in Springfield, powerful bosses are proving they have an unfair advantage over Illinois families. When we lose the balance between taxpayers and special interests, property taxes go up and the quality of education goes down."

Rauner said that the impasse between CPS and the union would have already concluded if his proposed reforms had been enacted.

The state of Illinois has yet to pass a budget for the fiscal year that started last July.

Lewis, the teachers' union president, shot back, calling Rauner "bad for Illinois."

"Since Rauner has been in office he has failed to govern. Instead he has come in like the venture capitalist he is to slash budgets, restrict funding for critical social services, destroy Chicago's school district—along with Chicago State University, and hold every citizen of our state hostage to his failed turnaround agenda. Simply put, he is bad for Illinois," Lewis said in a union-issued statement.

"Instead of attacking people in public service who have devoted their lives to educating children, he should use his title to make a positive difference in people's lives," Lewis said.]

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