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Chicago Teachers Union Says No To Strike For Now

By  Ted Cox and Joe Ward | May 4, 2016 1:35pm | Updated on May 6, 2016 10:51am

 Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said the union has called off plans for now to strike in May.
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said the union has called off plans for now to strike in May.
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DNAinfo/Joe Ward

RIVER NORTH — Chicago's public school teachers have called off a potential May strike for now, saying instead they will focus on pressuring the city and state to properly fund Chicago Public Schools.

Delegates with the Chicago Teachers Union met Thursday, although Union President Karen Lewis wouldn't even say the meeting was to discuss the prospects of a May strike.

Instead of striking, teachers and the union will focus their efforts on finding ways to bring financial stability to a school system on the brink of bankruptcy, said Jesse Sharkey, the teacher's unions vice president. The union has a set of revenue-generating goals and it will petition leaders to adopt them, he said.

"Right now we are focused on trying to get revenue," Sharkey told reporters. "We have to watch that play out."

The teachers union and the city have been working towards a labor contract for teachers, one of the reasons given for a potential strike. Teachers are also outraged at the state of financing for Chicago Public Schools, and have blasted Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Bruce Rauner for not helping the system.

The union's new stance on a May strike is markedly different from its opinion in April, when union officials denounced a federal fact-finders report and said the countdown towards a strike had started.

Lewis said contract talks with the city are progressing. She downplayed reports that teachers were worried about losing paychecks or their health insurance for the summer if a strike was called.

"Nobody wants to lose a paycheck," she said. "We will withhold our labor if we have to. We've done it before."

CTU will push for the adoption of its "revenue recovery package" for the school systems.

The proposal claims to generate over $500 million in new revenue for schools. Proposals include a tax on rideshare services like Uber for $15 million a year, a 1.5 percent increase in the hotel tax that will generate $30 million, and a redirection of the $1.2 billion Lucas Museum bond towards CPS for an additional $30 million.

"Our revenue recovery package is necessary right now to stave off mass layoffs, school closings and more furloughs that will wreak havoc on our students and classrooms," Sharkey said in a statement.

Lewis said a strike could still be called, especially if the city reconsiders an idea to make teachers pay an additional 7 percent of their pensions.

But before that, Lewis said she wants to see if the school system can find some relief.

"We are leaving all of our options open," Lewis said. "Things are moving in Springfield. We know they are listening to us."

Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey said earlier this week teachers might not want to strike this spring, and labor-law experts said it could jeopardize health care coverage for teachers.

Even so, when Mayor Rahm Emanuel suggested a strike had been averted on Monday, the union immediately responded that teachers "have yet to decide when or if we will go on strike."

Teachers have declared an impasse in ongoing negotiations with CPS on a new contract, and the union rejected a fact-finding report April 16, beginning a 30-day "cooling-off period" as one of the last legal hurdles before a strike can legally be declared.

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