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Chicago Teachers Set to Strike Oct. 11, Pending Contract Negotiations

By guest blogger Denisa R. Superville. This post originally appeared on the District Dossier blog (@District_Doss).

The Chicago Teachers' Union said Wednesday that it will go on strike beginning Oct. 11 if it does not reach an agreement with the district over a new contract. 

Wednesday's announcement came after a meeting of the CTU's House of Delegates. But Karen Lewis, the union's president, said at a press conference Wednesday that the two sides were still negotiating, and that a strike could be averted if they reached a tentative agreement before Oct. 11, ABC Chicago reported. 

Pay cuts, job losses, and larger class sizes were still major concerns for the union, Vice President Jesse Sharkey said.

The union announced on Monday that nearly 96 percent of teachers who voted in a strike-authorization vote last week cast ballots in favor of a strike.  

After the union's announcement Wednesday, district spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a statement: 

"What we can all agree on is that teachers deserve a raise, which is why we offered a contract with a healthy raise that was approved by an independent arbitrator. We believe a strike can be averted and to make sure children's academic progress isn't interrupted, CPS will work tirelessly at the bargaining table.

"A strike is a very serious step that affects the lives of thousands of parents and children, and we hope that in the coming days, the CTU's leadership works in good faith at the bargaining table to reach a fair deal for teachers and students."

Earlier on Wednesday, the Chicago Tribune reported that the district had started to make contingency plans in the event that the teachers walked off the job. 

But Chicago schools CEO Forrest Claypool reiterated points the district made on Monday, saying that the district would continue to negotiate with teachers to reach an agreement and that a work stoppage would jeopardize the academic progress the district has made in recent years.

"We will continue to listen, continue to negotiate and continue to do everything possible to avoid an interruption to our students' learning," the Tribune quoted Claypool as saying. "A strike would harm the children we're all here to serve. It would halt the great progress that our kids are making, and it would create an enormous burden for CPS families."

The union's contract expired in June 2015.

The union's "Big Bargaining Team" voted to reject a district offer in February this year that proposed a four-year labor agreement with a salary increase over the life of the contract. Lewis said at the time that the union rejected the proposal in part because it did not trust the district to deliver what it had promised in the offer.

Chicago school district has argued that it does not have the money to pay for all the union's demands. The union has countered that both the district and the city could scare up some additional revenues in part by implementing and restoring a series of taxes. 

An independent factfinder recommended in April that the union accept an agreement that followed the contours of the district's earlier proposal. The union also rejected the factfinder's proposal.

The union has been extremely vocal about the district's plan to end a long-standing policy of paying the bulk of union members' pension contributions. Under the policy, the district picks up 7 percent of the cost, while member chip in 2 percent. The district wants to end the policy, which the union has said would be akin to a pay cut. 

As tensions rose in the spring, Education Week took a deep dive into the district's financial challenges and the major sticking point between the two sides. We also explored how the uncertainty over the lack of a union contract was affecting educators, parents, and students.

The last Chicago teachers' union strike, in 2012, lasted seven days.

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