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Chicago Teachers Hold Huge Pre-Holiday Rally; Membership Prepares for Strike Authorization

via @stacydavisgates on Twitter

via @stacydavisgates on Twitter

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Ahead of the holiday last week, thousands of Chicago teachers rallied in Grant Park in hopes of pushing contract talks in a direction that would prevent a formal strike.  Negotiations have stalled between the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and, while the union has yet to formally announce a strike authorization vote, they have begun the process required by state law. 

These teachers say they would prefer to stay in the classroom, but collective action has been a valuable tool in Chicago in the past. Earlier this month, CTU announced that 97 percent of members said they are ready to strike in a mock vote held by the union.  

CTU President Karen Lewis, who led a seven-day strike in 2012, laid out the battle plan before the Grant Park crowd:

“It is time for us to act.  We must show the city, the mayor’s hand picked Board of Education and even our students and parents that Chicago’s public school educators will stand up for what is just and fair, and together we will fight to protect our professions and our classrooms.”

Lewis recalled the 2012 action, saying: “We’ve been here before.  No teacher wants to go on strike. We prefer to be in front of our students. But we know that when we must, we will withhold our labor.”

The Board of Education claims its financial distress prevents it from funding the teachers health insurance and pension programs at the current rate.  For teachers, however, any shift of these costs means a cut in take home pay.  According to CTU VP Jesse Sharkey, the city’s proposal would take $653 million “out of pockets of people that make the schools go.” Without an infusion of money, CPS will likely lay off an estimated 5,000 workers.

CPS CEO Forrest Claypool floated the idea of state funding helping the contract negotiations:

“It starts with the state,” Claypool said. “Their fundamental obligation at a minimum … is to give the most impoverished children in the state equality. Not more, just equality.  And if we get that foundation, then we can say ‘OK, we’ll do our part.  The city will do its part and ask the teachers union to do their part. So it really does begin with the state.”


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