Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis said union members are showing "overwhelming" support for a strike, according to the Chicago Tribune. CTU and the Chicago Public Schools have been in contract negotiations for four months and are still far from coming to an agreement.
The parties have been embroiled in conflict for a while now over the district's implementation of policies that extend the school day and tie teacher evaluations to student performance. In the current negotiations, according to the Tribune, the union has asked for a nearly 30 percent raise over two years24 percent next year and 5 percent the year afterwhile the district is offering a 2 percent raise next year and then turning to a merit pay system. Lewis, not known for being reserved in her rhetoric, said, "I have never seen anything like this hostile climate that exists right now."
Schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard said in a news conference, "It's unfortunate that the CTU will be talking about a strike when we know we have so much work we have to do within our schools."
Lewis claimed an informal poll of members at 150 schools indicates that nearly all teachers are ready to walk out. However, a new Illinois law has made a walkout difficult to initiate. At least 75 percent of all union members need to approve a strike, rather than a majority of voters as previously required. In addition, the law requires a series of stepsincluding a panel review and fact-finding processbe taken before a strike can occur, which would take at least four months to complete, pushing the possibility of a strike into the next school year.
Education policy expert Rod Estvan told the paper that membership "polling is also a negotiating tool on the part of the CTU to try to get a better offer."
If a strike were to take place, it would be the first in Chicago in 15 years.
CORRECTION: The last teacher strike in Chicago was in 198725 years ago. HT to a vigilant reader.