Photos: At CTU rally, talk of strike looms large

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Despite near-freezing temperatures, thousands of Chicago Teachers Union members and their supporters turned out Monday night for a rally in Grant Park, where CTU President Karen Lewis said teachers were prepared to strike to protect the interests of their students.

“No teacher wants to go on strike, we prefer to be in front of our students,” she told a crowd dressed largely in red and bundled in hats and scarves. “But we know that when we must, we will withhold our labor… Was it difficult for us in 2012? Yes. But we showed our solidarity, we showed our power and we won things in our labor agreement that we needed to protect our interests. And we will do it again this time.”

Monday’s rally coincided with a formal request from the CTU to begin the fact-finding process as part of ongoing contract negotiations, which would bring the union one step closer to a potential strike. When mediation fails during collective bargaining, a panel is brought in to review facts and try to reach a compromise. The CTU contract expired in June.

Under the union’s timeline, teachers could walk out later this winter. But CPS officials say they’re continuing to work with a mediator and that an agreement still could be reached with the CTU. If not, the district says it’s prepared to begin the fact-finding process in early February, which would push a strike back toward the end of the school year.