Unable to reach a contract with the school district, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union today filed a notice of intent to strike with the state's labor relations board, a move that allows the union to form the picket line as soon as 10 days from now.
While no strike date is set as yet—the union's governing body will meet next Thursday to decide those steps—the 10-day authorization would make Sept. 10 the first workday in which a walkout could occur.
To say that this will be a closely watched countdown is an understatement. CTU President Karen Lewis has become something of a hero to teachers who are frustrated with recent policy directives such as evaluations and pay based partly on student test-score growth, turnarounds based on school closures, and charter conversions. Some of those teachers believe that the national teachers' unions have been too willing to compromise with management and other powerful interests on these issues.
Beyond that, the situation is a test of sorts in a new era of education politics. A teachers' strike in Chicago was basically thought to be unworkable following the passage of a law in 2011, SB 7, that raised the strike-authorization threshold to 75 percent of teachers. The union's authorization vote far outpaced that figure. The law was heavily influenced by the state chapter of the Stand for Children advocacy group, among others. (CTU, along with two state teacher unions, had a hand in shaping the legislation, though it later qualified its support for the bill.)
There's a compelling personal drama under the surface, too: Both Lewis and Rahm Emanuel, the city's mayor with whom she has repeatedly clashed, are strong-willed, well spoken, and make a great impression on TV. It's hard to see either one backing down easily.
The CTU seemed to make some headway on its demands late last month, winning an agreement from the district to hire back some 500 teachers. But issues, such as raises, tenure-granting, and the shape of an evaluation system, remain sticking points. (Chicago leaders refused teachers a 4 percent increase last year.)
A resolution is possible—both district and union have been engaged in lengthy bargaining sessions—but in a statement, the union said the two sides remain far apart.
Meanwhile, the city's board of education recently approved $25 million in funding to keep services such as school lunches intact if a strike occurs.