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Teachers Union To Lay Out Plans For April 1 'Day Of Action'

By Ted Cox | March 23, 2016 6:16am
 Karen Lewis takes part in a Chicago Teachers Union protest earlier this year.
Karen Lewis takes part in a Chicago Teachers Union protest earlier this year.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

RIVER NORTH — A key committee of the Chicago Teachers Union meets Wednesday to decide on plans for an April 1 "Day of Action."

Union President Karen Lewis has left Chicago Public Schools officials flummoxed and confounded by what's she's called a "Day of Action" — whether it's a "showdown" or simply an orchestrated effort to "shut it down" on April 1. At one point it even appeared the union was calling for a general strike.

The union issued a news release Tuesday saying it's "part of a larger coalition of labor, student groups, community-based organizations and activists who have vowed to 'shut down' Chicago’s 'business as usual' politics by staging a variety of non-violent actions throughout the city."

The union's House of Delegates meets Wednesday to decide on a course of action, with a news conference to follow at 6:30 p.m. at the International Operating Engineers Hall, 2260 S. Grove St. But what remains to be formally determined is whether that panel will decide on a all-day strike, a walkout at some point of the day — before or after classes end — or simply an evening march or demonstration Downtown.

Other unions at local universities and organizing various government workers will be watching the course of action the teachers dictate and weighing whether to join in. Union sources say the House of Delegates vote will have to be overwhelming to approve a walkout.

As CPS and the union continue to pursue talks on a new contract, relations between the two sides have been strained since CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool threatened 5,000 layoffs late last year, at which point the union told teachers to start saving for a strike.

The union rejected a possible deal in February, immediately followed by CPS declaring $100 million in school cuts, which the union called an "act of war."

The district has not yet followed through on threats to force teachers to pay a 7 percent pension contribution it has previously picked up — a cut in take-home pay teachers said would be a violation of the contract they're currently working under. The district imposed three furlough days on all CPS employees earlier this month, which the union has likewise labeled a pay cut, although Lewis said it wasn't a "strike-worthy" move.

Even so, teachers insist those are unfair labor practices, which clears them to stage an immediate job action, even as they continue to wait for a fact-finding report to be issued on contract talks they say are at an impasse. If that process is completed, it would legally clear the way for a full-scale teachers strike as early as mid-May. CPS has countered that any walkout before that would be "illegal."

"They're allowed to say whatever their theory of the case is," Lewis said earlier this month. "We have our theory, they have theirs. Some judge will figure that out at some point."

As for the April 1 "Day of Action," union officials insist it's aimed at the general statewide "funding inequity" on education spending, an issue currently locked up in the ongoing budget impasse between Gov. Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly, and at "business as usual" at CPS and in the Emanuel administration.

Parents have to arrange care for CPS students Friday, the only furlough day for teachers set on what was originally a school day, and might well have to do so again next Friday, April Fools' Day, although Claypool has been clear in stating it's a school day, with teachers and students are expected to be in class.

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