Teachers move closer to 10-day strike notice

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Though they were not required to, Chicago Teachers Union delegates voted to give their leaders discretion to issue a 10-day notice of intent to strike.

“That is how we do things,” said CTU President Karen Lewis in explaining why she looked to delegates for the go ahead to give notice. “We are a democracy.”

But more than anything, the move alerts CPS leadership and the public that a strike is a growing threat.

If the CTU wants to strike on September 4, the first day of school, notice would have to be given by Saturday.

The House of Delegates also planned to re-convene in a week, on Thursday – likely to update members on negotiations and see whether members want to strike. There is also a rally planned at Daley Plaza on Labor Day.

As they left the meeting, many members said they felt like a strike was a real possibility.

Delegates cited dissatisfaction with the district’s latest salary offer – a 2 percent raise each year for the next 3 years, with the implementation of a merit pay program in the fourth year of the contract – as one reason they are considering a walk-out. They also said that CPS is asking for a bigger health insurance contribution and it would offset a raise.

They said frustration with scarce district resources is also playing a role.

“They seem to be trying to play chicken. It’s headed toward a collision,” said Valerie Morris, a special education teacher at McKay Elementary.

She complained that resources are stretched so tight that the school’s recess is held in the auditorium and that the principal, assistant principals, librarians, and the art and gym teacher must trade off supervisory duties – instead of spending time doing their jobs.

Jeanne Freed, a Spanish teacher at Lincoln Park High School, said that the mood was “very positive in favor of a strike” but that delegates planned to take information back to the schools after teachers return to set up classrooms on Aug. 27.

“I have been though four negotiations. This is the toughest,” said Paulette Butler-Mitchell, an art teacher at South Loop Elementary who has been a delegate for 10 years. “The frustration level is very high. From the atmosphere inside… it seems like the possibility of a strike is very high.”

Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said in a statement that a resolution passed by the school board on Wednesday to authorize spending on a strike contingency plan was “a precaution that we need to take” on students’ behalf.

 “We want our kids to stay in school with their teachers where they are benefiting from the Full School Day, but we need to be prepared,” Brizard said. “Most of our kids rely on us for their food, and will need a safe environment and to stay engaged in positive activities.”