Chicago teachers vote to authorize strike
The union representing teachers in the nation's third largest school district in the nation has voted to authorize a strike if negotiations with the school board break down.
Ninety-five percent of Chicago public school teachers approved the strike in a vote over three days last week.
Teachers walked out for one day last April, which caused chaos in the city as working parents were forced to care for their children who would normally have been in class.
The strike authorization vote sets up a pivotal week in the long-running talks between the union and the Chicago Board of Education. Both the board and the union's House of Delegates are set to meet Wednesday.
While the union has not revealed an agenda for Wednesday's meeting, it's possible that delegates could set a strike date. The union has to give at least 10 days' notice before a walkout can take place. A date could also be set for further down the road. Even if a strike date is set, the union could opt not to strike if negotiations show progress.
The union said Monday that "the first possible date for a teachers strike" would be Oct. 11.
In a statement, Chicago Public Schools said a walkout can still be averted.
"A strike is a very serious step that affects the lives of thousands of parents and children, and we hope that before taking the final steps toward a strike, the CTU's leadership works hard at the bargaining table to reach a fair deal," CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said.
Union leaders said in a recent interview that a combination of dueling ideologies and limited money are at the heart of negotiations to replace a contract that expired in June 2015. CTU President Karen Lewis cast Mayor Rahm Emanuel's influence as "extraordinarily important" to averting a walkout.
At issue are the thousands of teaching jobs that needed to be eliminated to narrow the $2-billion deficit being run by the school system, as well as cost of living increases, pension, and health care payments.
"Educators have been angry about the school-based cuts that have hurt special education students, reduced librarians, counselors, social workers and teachers' aides, and eliminated thousands of teaching positions," the union said in a statement.
The move ratchets up the pressure in contract talks that have already stretched over a year. Cost-of-living raises, pension contributions and health care have been key issues for the union's approximately 25,000 members.
CTU staged a one-day walkout in April, but the last major strike was during the last round of contract negotiations in 2012. Teachers picketed for seven days over evaluations, job security and classroom conditions -- Chicago's first teachers' strike in 25 years.
Little help for the school system is expected from Springfield, as the state has now gone nearly 15 months without a budget. Governor Bruce Rauner wants pension and benefit reforms from the teachers before he will back any funding. That's not likely to happen as the teachers look to hold up the city for pay increases that the school system simply can't afford.
The cost of borrowing to cover the CPS budget shortfall will be steep. Chicago schools have a lower than "junk" rating for their bonds, which will only complicate the long-term funding picture for the schools. This won't stop the teachers who appear oblivious to the fact that you can't get blood out of a turnip any easier than you can get cash from a state that doesn't have any.