With the news that the Chicago Teachers Union plans to conduct a strike authorization vote Wednesday, both sides of the debate over teacher contracts, and how they should be negotiated, are gearing up for a fight.
On Tuesday, union officials including president Karen Lewis visited schools across the city to explain how the vote will work, and answer questions about the authorization and the possible strike, according to ABC Chicago.
The strike vote will be the latest move in the battle between teachers and administrators that has raged on for over a year, marked by failed contract negotiations, objections to new teacher evaluation models and pushback against the city's initiatives to lengthen the school day.
State law requires worker strikes to be put to a vote, and at least 75 percent of union members must approve the measure before work stops, ABC reported last week. Special education teacher Oscar Ortiz told the station that "the strike talk is very real."
In April, CTU President Karen Lewis said teachers were "fed up," and that teachers at more than 200 schools supported a protest that included leaving the workforce in a series of "mock strike votes." At all schools that conducted mock votes, support for a strike registered at or above 80 percent, with many schools seing 95 percent or more of the teaching staff expressing interest in a protest.
In an interview with Fox Chicago, CPS chief Jean-Claude Brizard said the district wants to give teachers raises, but cannot afford the 30 percent increase over the next two years that teachers have requested. Brizard also pointed to the lost grant money, which he says could have helped offset those costs.
"It's $35 million that will go to teachers to pay people who are working in hard to staff schools, hard to staff subject areas, no strings attached," Brizard said. "$35 million for pay for teachers, some getting as much as $15,000 more in their paychecks."
Brizard pleaded Friday that the union hold off on going on strike because an independent reviewer is currently reviewing offers from both sides in the ongoing negotiations, NBC Chicago reports.
But teachers, led by union president Karen Lewis, say they're out of options.
"[Teachers] are tired of being blamed, bullied and belittled by the very district that should be supporting them," Lewis said in April.
But the strike talk is facing pushback from an affiliate of Democrats for Education Reform. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that the group made a "significant buy" of radio advertising to circulate ads that criticize the teachers' early strike vote.
The ads, which will run on WLS, WBBM, WGCI, WVON and a Spanish-language station, say it "makes no sense" for teachers to push for a strike vote "before they even see the deal" being offered, or hear the results of a fact-finding report due July 16, according to the Sun-Times. It also offers a phone number where listeners can text their concerns and sign a petition to stall the vote, pleading that "maybe if they hear from enough parents, they'll do right by kids."
The union says the strike authorization vote is set to begin Wednesday.