Chicago Teachers Authorize Strike as City Seeks Funding
By guest blogger Denisa Superville
The Chicago Teachers' Union said Monday that its members voted to authorize a strike if the union and Chicago school district officials do not reach a contract agreement.
If the union goes ahead with the threat, it will be the first time since 2012 that teachers in the country's third-largest school district would walk off the job.
The seven-day strike in 2012 was the city's first teacher's union strike in 25 years, and it came as a severe blow to Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The union said that 88 percent of its 24,752 eligible members voted in favor of authorizing a strike. The union needed 75 percent of eligible members to vote yes. Members cast ballots during a three-day voting period last week.
Union vice president Jesse Sharkey told the Chicago Tribune that the earliest a strike can be called is March.
In a statement announcing the vote, Sharkey said that Forrest Claypool, the CEO of Chicago's school district, and Mayor Emanuel should listen to teachers and educators.
He reiterated the union's demands: better teaching conditions, reduction in testing, adequate staffing, and equipping schools with tools to help the communities they serve with social issues.
"...Listen to what teachers and educators are trying to tell you: Do not cut the schools anymore, do not make the layoffs that you have threatened; instead, respect educators and give us the tools we need to do our jobs," Sharkey said.
He said union members "do not want to strike, but we do demand that you listen to us. Do not cut our schools, do not lay off educators or balance the budget on our backs."
Claypool said last month that without help from the state of Illinois—where there is still no budget deal—there will be staff layoffs next year. The school system is facing a host of financial issues, including an estimated $1 billion long-term budget deficit.
"We have the highest respect for our teachers' work, and while we understand their frustrations, a strike that threatens to set back our students' progress is simply not the answer to our challenges," Claypool said, according to the Tribune. "So rather than strike, we ask that the Chicago Teachers' Union join us to fight for our shared goal of equal education funding from Springfield for Chicago's children."
The school district has said the union's demand would exceed $1 billion a year and would require the district to hire more than 1,000 more staffers, including school nurses, psychologists, and counselors, the paper reported. The district would also need to hire more than 5,000 teachers to reduce class sizes, according to the Tribune.
The union's contract with the district expired on June 30, and both sides have been negotiating since, without an agreement.