POLITICS

Chicago Teachers' Union Votes 'Overwhelmingly' In Favor Of Strike

Union President Karen Lewis has cautioned members to save 25 percent of their pay in anticipation of a long strike next year.

CHICAGO, Dec 14 (Reuters) - Chicago public school teachers have voted "overwhelmingly" to authorize a strike, preparing for what could be the second walk-out at the financially troubled system in less than four years, the union said on Monday.

Teachers in the nation's third-largest school system voted over three days last week on whether to allow a strike, if union leaders in contract negotiations decide a work stoppage is necessary. Under state law, at least 75 percent of union members must approve a strike.

The union confirmed the authorization vote on its Twitter and Facebook feed on Monday. A percentage was not immediately available.

Union President Karen Lewis has cautioned members to save 25 percent of their pay in anticipation of a long strike next year.

"Chicago's public school educators are united in fighting for the schools our students deserve and ensuring that a fair contract recognizes the hard and dedicated work they do in our school buildings," the union said in a statement.

The district, which serves about 400,000 students at more than 600 schools, faces a $1.1 billion structural deficit and thousands of possible teacher layoffs after Christmas. The teachers' union said that the school system has slashed classrooms "to the gristle" and is trying to force the union to give back $653 million worth of benefits.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has blamed state government, which gives Chicago schools only 15 percent of state education funding, though it accounts for 20 percent of the state's public school students.

Already facing criticism over alleged misconduct by Chicago police officers, Emanuel said last week that the teachers' union should work as hard to come up with a solution as it did to figure out a strike vote.

The school system's former chief executive, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, pleaded guilty in October to a fraud charge related to the awarding of a no-bid contract to her former employer, infuriating parents and teachers who had already seen budget cutbacks.

The last strike was in September 2012, the district's first in 25 years.

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