Teachers support possible strike, union says

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The Chicago Teachers Union claimed Thursday that more than 75 percent of teachers at each of 150 schools showed support for a strike in informal polling.

But the union would not give details on which schools the polls were conducted, or whether any teachers at turnaround schools had voiced their support. “We will have a lot of intimidation and harassment” if the schools are revealed, said CTU President Karen Lewis. 

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said in response that “Any talk of strike is the wrong message to send to our schools, students and taxpayers.”

“We should be focusing our energies on our students, working together in good faith to reach an agreement that will benefit them and their academic growth,” Carroll said. Catalyst Chicago first reported on the issue of “practice” strike votes in January.

If a strike were to happen this summer or fall, it would be the first since 1987, when a walkout fueled calls for reforms and ultimately led to the passage of the landmark 1989 school reform law that created local school councils and decentralized governance of schools. Former Mayor Richard M. Daley secured recent labor peace with the current 5-year teachers union contract, which will expire June 30.

At a news conference, Lewis described as “cordial” the ongoing contract negotiations with the district, which are now in mediation. But she said the climate inside schools is the worst she’s seen in 25 years of teaching, and has fueled the strike polls.

CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin has said that the union may call for a fact-finding panel before April is up. That would be the next step in a lengthy, legally mandated pre-strike process. (Click here for Catalyst Chicago’s interactive timeline of the negotiations and possible next steps.)

Contract proposals on the table

Lewis also slammed the district’s proposal for a 2 percent raise next year, saying it amounted to a 23 percent pay cut because of the increase in time that teachers will be required to work once the official longer school day and year begin next year.

She also characterized the district’s proposal for a 20-page contract as “gutting” the current agreement and said health insurance costs would increase.

The district is offering a 2 percent raise in the first year followed by the implementation of a merit pay system, Lewis said, but CPS and CTU have not discussed the size of possible teacher bonuses. (A flyer distributed by the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, the union caucus of the current leadership, states that CPS has proposed eliminating the current contract’s ‘step and lane’ system, which rewards teachers for earning graduate degrees and on years of experience.)

Lewis added that CPS has made “no commitments” to increase the professional wraparound services like school nurses and psychologists that are available to students, one of the union’s demands.