CHINATOWN — The Chicago Teachers Union set Oct. 11 as a strike date Wednesday in a vote by its House of Delegates.
Union President Karen Lewis and Vice President Jesse Sharkey held a news conference at the International Operating Engineers Hall, 2260 S. Grove St., after Wednesday's House of Delegates meeting.
Some 95.6 percent of teachers voted last week to authorize a strike, and with 90.6 of eligible union members taking part, easily surpassed the 75 percent threshold required for the authorization.
The union, however, is required to give 10 days' notice before a walkout, making Oct. 11 the earliest date possible to strike.
"If we cannot reach the agreement by then, we will withhold our labor. It's time to move this along," Lewis said at a press conference Wednesday. "Technically, it means we are on strike as of Oct. 11 if we have not reached a tentative agreement."
Teachers have been working without a contract since June 2015, after CPS opted out of the final year of the previous agreement negotiated to end the 2012 strike. Lewis said in a letter to teachers earlier this month that "we will not work another year without a contract."
"We've worked without one for a while. If we continue to work without one, they will continue to not settle with us in a fair and equitable way," said Tammie Vinson, a teacher at DePriest Elementary School and a CPS instructor for 15 years. "Our outreach and the basis of the strike has been pretty good. People in the building understand. I think the narrative that has been building against us that we are doing things that are self-serving is a false narrative."
Teachers approved a strike last December by the same 96 percent vote. They went on to reject a contract offer from CPS earlier this year — a deal Lewis acknowledged as a "serious offer" — but held off on a threatened late-spring strike.
A strike would be the third CPS work stoppage under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, after the 2012 strike and the one-day April 1 walkout.
Kimberly Goldbaum, a teacher at Seward Elementary and a CPS teacher for 24 years, said: "CPS continues to cut people and resources, so we have to continue to make a stand.
"And it's unfortunate that these things get a little heated," she added. "The students and the workers deserve more than they are getting. They keep taking away, and this is our stand."
Even as the clock ticks, both sides agreed a strike can be averted. A union statement issued Tuesday said, "The Board of Education still has the power to halt a work stoppage by agreeing to a fair contract."
Similarly, CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner stated earlier this week that "a strike can be averted, and CPS will work tirelessly to make sure children’s education and progress is not interrupted."
Bittner called a strike "a very serious step that affects the lives of thousands of parents and children, and we hope that, before taking the final steps toward a strike, the CTU’s leadership works hard at the bargaining table to reach a fair deal."
Bittner, in a statement after the vote Wednesday, said: "What we can all agree on is that teachers deserve a raise, which is why we offered a contract with a healthy raise that was approved by an independent arbitrator. We believe a strike can be averted and to make sure children’s academic progress isn’t interrupted, CPS will work tirelessly at the bargaining table."
Tanisha Peoples, an Englewood resident who is against the strike, said, "We've seen what's going on in Chicago in terms of violence, so kids being out of school is a huge concern for me. Some parents may not have child care. They may be left to hang out in the streets."
Teachers have rejected a CPS proposal for them for them to pay a 7 percent contribution to their pensions, which CPS has been responsible for since the '80s. The union insists that perk was hard-won at the bargaining table, and paying it would amount to a 7 percent cut in pay. Lewis has said that "our members have been very clear" they reject that proposal, and she called it "strike-worthy" over a year ago.
The union also said that CPS has rejected proposals that would have no effect on spending. Teachers have said they're fighting to defend public education, and have called for the city to find more revenue rather than rely on cuts.
The strike deadline came as CPS released revised school budgets based on enrollment declines this fall. Teachers were bracing for more cuts to be announced this week.
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