Strike authorization vote to start Wednesday

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The Chicago Teachers Union officials will kick off a strike-authorization vote this Wednesday, and allow it to continue “until there is a clear result one way or the other.”

Holding the vote over a multiple-day period will help the union garner more participation. Under a new law, at least 75 percent of all union members must authorize a strike potential strike.

Any final decision on a walkout would be made by the union’s House of Delegates. By law, though, that can’t happen until after an independent fact-finding panel has recommended a settlement and publicized its findings. The panel’s findings are due in mid-July. For a timeline of the negotiations so far, click here

 CPS released a statement Friday evening saying that a vote “would only hurt our kids and our community.” CPS officials have emphatically argued that a strike authorization vote should not happen until after the fact-finder releases his report and the process is allowed to play out.

But CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey has said  the requirement that 75 percent of all members approve a strike, rather than the majority of voters, has pushed the union to call a vote early.

During the summer, it would be difficult to pull in all members to vote, he has said.

“This is a vote that essentially puts 30,000 members at the bargaining table with us,” Sharkey said. “It’s a reaction to what we see as unreasonable proposals.”

Further, union president Karen Lewis pointed out Friday that the fact-finding panel can only make recommendations about a limited number of issues, primarily compensation. She said that CTU asked CPS to let the panel deal with broader educational issues, but CPS said no. If either side rejects the settlement proposed by the panel, the union must wait 30 days before it can strike.

At a CTU press conference on Friday, parents stood with teachers and noted a wide range of issues they said CPS had been unwilling to address in contract negotiations. They included a lack of funding for longer-day recess aides (possibly forcing teachers to take on that duty); oversize classes; schools’ lack of air conditioning; a shortage of social workers and other clinicians; and a dearth of money for more art, music, physical education and library teachers.

 Trish O’Shea, a preschool teacher at Dunne Tech Academy in Roseland, said that “there are days when learning in our classroom is almost impossible” because the temperature reaches 100 degrees or above.

 “The union has proposed air conditioning all schools for all kids, and the Board has rejected that,” she said.

 Becky Malone, of 19th Ward Parents, said her group supported the union.

 “They are expected to guide our brightest young minds, but their hands are tied by a city that does not respect them or what they do,” she said.

But Mary Anderson, executive director of Stand for Children Illinois, reiterated her group’s past criticism of a strike authorization vote. She says the union is “holding our students’ education hostage in order to score political points.”

“Asking teachers to decide right now whether to strike, when they have no information… is completely unfair to those teachers and it’s unfair to students,” Anderson says. “It’s completely against the spirit of Senate Bill 7. This is a process CTU agreed to; they were at the table.”

Stand for Children has started an online petition against the strike authorization vote and a “Collective Bargaining 101” website for parents. Stand for Children leadership lobbied for Senate Bill 7 which established the new process that the union must undertake before calling a strike.

 Lewis fired back at criticisms of the vote at the press conference. “State law does not prohibit us from taking a strike authorization vote now, and does not require us to wait until after fact-finding,” she said.

 She also blamed Senate Bill 7 for increasing teacher strikes around the state, saying it has emboldened districts to enforce “draconian” policies against teachers.

 Adam Geisler, a delegate at Bateman Elementary, says part of the problem is that CPS is asking teachers to try too many new initiatives, too quickly, without proof that they will work. He says the extended day and year, the Common Core State Standards, network reorganizations, and new teacher evaluations that will factor in student performance are all adding to teachers’ workload.

 “Teachers are, frankly, overwhelmed, and feel like they’re not being treated with professional respect in terms of these decisions,” Geisler says. “The strike-authorization vote is simply a way for us to exert our influence… (at a time when) teachers and students are being used as pawns in education reform that has no research behind it.”