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Why Are Chicago Teachers Striking Today? 5 Reasons

By Joe Ward | March 31, 2016 1:03pm | Updated on April 1, 2016 10:49am

CHICAGO — Teachers with Chicago Public Schools are walking off the job Friday for a one-day strike they are calling a "day of action."

The April 1 strike is the culmination of months of frustration for the teachers, who have been threatening to strike since at least November over the state of school funding and what they consider unfair labor practices.

RELATED: LIVE Coverage of the Chicago Teachers Strike 

"We are dying the death by 1,000 cuts," Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said after the strike was authorized. "The labor conditions have gotten to a point where they are not tolerable."

Here are some of the main reasons teachers will be striking Friday.


GOV. RAUNER: The union has traditionally clashed with Mayor Rahm Emanuel over issues of funding and school closures, but this time the teachers also are putting Gov. Bruce Rauner in their crosshairs.

Without a state budget, CPS has had to take a number of midyear actions to keep the school system open, including cuts to the classroom and layoffs to central office staff. Rauner has even suggested that CPS declare bankruptcy and fall under the control of the state.

The "day of action" will focus on bringing attention to the state of school funding and put pressure on the state to pass a budget, union brass has said.

Rauner is also a villain in the eyes of CPS bosses. But CPS CEO Forest Claypool says that the Friday walkout has given Rauner "more ammunition in his misguided attempt to bankrupt and take over Chicago Public Schools."

The union wants to see "a progressive tax reform" enacted that would raise taxes on the top 5 percent of earners in Illinois, which teachers say could raise up to $6 billion in new revenue for education and other social needs. The union also wants to use business development money set aside by the city in tax increment finance accounts to help pay for schools.

MIDYEAR CUTS: Teachers say cuts to the classroom and to school staff have hurt children and made teaching more difficult.

Lewis called the more than $100 million in school cuts announced in February an "act of war." CPS said the cuts were necessary to keep operating after it did not receive an extra $480 million in funding CPS budgeted for this school year. That funding was  never authorized by the General Assembly.

After CPS said it would have to lay off teachers midyear, the union held a mock strike vote in December, and 96 percent of its members voted to authorize the action.

Few teachers were laid off because of the cuts, however, as many schools used rainy day funds and cut programs before losing staff, according to DNAinfo Chicago reports. Many of the schools that lost the most money midyear are large, successful schools that were able to withstand the cuts.

FURLOUGH DAYS: Teachers are also mad about the three unpaid furlough days they have been forced to take this year. The school district said the move was needed to save $30 million so schools could stay open for the year.

But teachers said the move considerably reduces pay for teachers and the furloughs "all but assure" a strike would be authorized.

The first furlough day was Good Friday; the remaining two will be on professional development days when students are not in school, according to CPS.

PENSION FIGHT: Teachers have been asked to pick up 7 percent of their pension cost currently covered by CPS, a move the union called strikeworthy.

The teachers union estimated the cost of the pension pickup at $140 million annually, or about $4,000 to a teacher making $55,000. 

"Seven percent is huge. It's not acceptable to our members," Lewis said.

Claypool has said that the pension pickup is off the table for now, as the union and the city continue to negotiate a work contract.

CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS: The pension pickup has been the main sticking point of ongoing contract negotiations, but the union is also unhappy with the city's negotiations tactics.

The union's bargaining team rejected a contract offer by the city in February, saying it didn't have faith in CPS to stabilize district finances.

At the time, Lewis cited a "lack of trust in CPS" and the district's "weasel language" in previous contract talks. She specifically said the district's pledge to halt the expansion of charter schools was disingenuous.


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