09/07/2012 01:02 pm ET

Chicago Teachers Strike: Union Says Talks 'Improving,' American Federation Of Teachers Backs Strike

Chicago teachers got a significant endorsement for their plan to strike if contract negotiations aren't resolved by next week, but according to early reports from the union, there's a chance a deal could be reached before the walkout.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis told WLS on Friday that talks with the school board have taken a "turn for the better," according to the Chicago Sun-Times. While the union hasn't made any statements about whether the strike set for Monday is still on, Lewis said she was optimistic after her most recent conversations with Chicago Public Schools representatives.

Chicago schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard described "tense and difficult" reconciliation attempts on the horizon in a conversation with CBS Chicago Thursday.

“We are close,” he said. “We have gone through over 400 issues from last November. We are so close to getting this thing done.”

On Thursday, the American Federation of Teachers released a statement expressing support for the Chicago Teacher Union's decision to strike if necessary:

"The AFT and its members stand with the CTU," the national union said in a statement. “No one takes a strike lightly. CTU members feel that a clear message has been sent by the school district that they and their work are not valued. This message is demonstrated not simply by the school board’s denial of agreed-upon pay raises, but also by Chicago Public Schools’ exclusion of the CTU from conversations it had with outside groups about potential school closings."

Teachers are threatening to walk off the job next Monday over unsatisfying contract negotiations with the school board. On Wednesday, Lewis characterized the sticking points in the back-and-forth between teachers and the district: while the board responding to their concerns over its controversial merit pay model that would tie fourth-year pay raises to performance, Lewis said the board isn't budging on its offer of 2 percent raises every year for four years.

Also on Wednesday, the union filed unfair labor practice charges with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board against CPS for adjusting longevity pay and sick leave while bargaining was still underway.

CPS condemned the union's move in a statement, decrying the "unnecessary litigation at a time when our focus should be on negotiations and reaching a fair agreement in order to avoid any disruptions to our kids' school year."

If teachers follow through with a strike Monday, CPS has a contingency plan called "Children First" that will extend the hours of Park District summer camps and host 4-hour sessions of "positive activities" that include breakfast and lunch at 145 schools.

Also, 60 area churches will open as "safe havens" where students can go in the event of a strike, WGN reports.

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