Ninety percent of teachers authorize a strike

June 11, 2012

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More than enough members of the Chicago Teachers Union gave union leaders the green light to call a strike—89.73 percent of them to be exact.

That’s well above the 75 percent now required by state law.

Union president Karen Lewis says the vote will give the union much-needed leverage at the bargaining table.

“We have the pulse of our members and we listened to what they had to say,” Lewis said.

So far, CPS and CTU have negotiated primarily over wages and benefits. Negotiations have been going on since November. Lewis said Monday she hopes the vote will push CPS to agree to discuss things like class size and length of school day and year.

Other school districts negotiate class size and school calendar when they cannot afford significant raises.

But in the city, the district calls the shots when it comes to those “permissible subjects of bargaining.”

Union leaders say they hope the strike authorization vote will push the district to agree to negotiate such issues.

But when asked if the district would be open to negotiating more than just pay, CPS chief Jean-Claude Brizard cited the budget.

“If you look at everything that’s being asked around those issues, I would need two more billion dollars to make that happen in the system,” Brizard said.

He said he wants everyone to wait until an independent mediator issues his final report on July 16. But it’s unclear if the factfinder will make a recommendation on anything beyond salaries and benefits.

Robert Bruno, a labor expert at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said if Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his schools team ignore the results of the vote or downplay them, they could be seen as “tone deaf” in the public eye.

Brizard said union leadership pushed members to vote in favor of a strike and maintained that a strike is unnecessary.

“I didn’t need a strike vote with SEIU; I didn’t need one with UNITE HERE Local 1 to come to resolution,” he said, referring to the two other unions that the district has agreed on contracts with.

The union defended the vote and called it an indictment of the new management of CPS. 

Last week, the district asked the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board to require that CTU document the voting process. That request was denied.

No legal challenges had been filed as of the end of the day Monday.

According to the union’s results, released to the public Monday, 2 percent of CTU members voted no and 8 percent of CTU members did not vote at all and were therefore counted as nos.

The union also released a day-by-day breakdown of the votes. On day one, the union had gotten 72.5 percent of its members to vote yes. However, Lewis said that was not because the ballots hadn’t been cast but because the union stopped counting.

Rev. John Thomas, a member of Arise Chicago, the group of clergy that helped oversee ballot counting, confirmed that several boxes of ballots had been received but were not counted the first night.

Many, including a few well-funded education reform groups, doubted that Lewis and the union could muster enough votes to hold a strike after state law increased the threshold for a strike to 75 percent of all members voting in favor of one.

People who helped craft the law say the CTU should not have held an authorization vote before the findings of the independent factfinder are made public in July. 

Stand for Children, one of the groups involved in drafting the state legislation, issued a statement Monday afternoon asking both sides to “stop the political theater and get a fair deal done.”

Click below for a follow up piece on what CEO Brizard says about opening up contract talks to more than just pay.