Chesterton Tribune

Chicago teachers set to take strike authorization vote

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DON BABWIN,

Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Teachers Union will ask members Wednesday to vote on whether they’d be willing to strike if negotiations with the city’s school district break down.

Union officials say they’re voting now and not after the recommendation of an independent fact-finder, which is due in mid-July as part of the contract talks, because they believe they have a better chance of getting 75 percent of the 25,500 members they need to authorize a strike while teachers are more likely not to be on vacation.

"Everyone that doesn’t vote is essentially voting no,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey, who added that the vote will be held for at least a few days until it becomes clear whether the 75 percent threshold has been reached.

An actual decision to strike could be months away, but the vote comes amid at-times acrimonious negotiations about issues such as teacher pay and the length of the school day.

The Chicago Public Schools has proposed a five-year deal that guarantees teachers a 2 percent pay raise in the first year of the five-year contract as well as the introduction of “differentiated pay” that could be tied to a host of criteria — including taking hard-to-fill jobs and leadership positions at their schools. Behind a high-profile push by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the district is also proposing lengthening the school day by 10 percent, said CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll.

The union wants a two-year deal that calls for teachers to receive a 24 percent pay raise in the first year and a 5 percent pay raise in the second year. Also, the union wants language in the contract that would reduce each class by about five students. The CPS says the current class size policy will remain as it is, with Carroll noting that state law does not allow teachers to strike over class size anyway.

As the negotiations have gone on, CTU President Karen Lewis and Emanuel have engaged in a war of words. Emanuel once defended the school board’s decision to cancel teacher raises by saying they’d already received a couple of raises, while the students received “the shaft.” Lewis once issued a statement saying that in one meeting with Emanuel, the mayor “exploded and “used profanity, pointed his finger (and) yelled.”

The CPS faces a $700 million deficit, and critics say the timing of the vote undercuts and intensifies negotiations between the district and its teachers.

“The CTU is jumping the gun and we are concerned that the union is getting more aggressive and confrontational,” said Rebecca Nieves Huffman, the state director for Democrats for Education Reform, which launched a major advertising media campaign imploring parents to voice their concerns about the vote. “It appears to be a beeline approach to a strike.”

Carroll said having the vote before the end of the school year means that about 1,500 retiring teachers who will not be affected by the vote can cast ballots, and that a couple thousand new teachers will be tied to a deal they couldn’t vote on.

Besides, she said, “It doesn’t make any sense to take a strike vote before teachers know what is on the table.”

Emanuel, who said he believes teachers deserve a pay raise, also suggested the union should wait until the fact-finding process plays out.

“Both sides called for that process,” he said at a news conference Tuesday. “If you focus there, energy and your time, we can find common ground.”

 

Posted 6/6/2012