Hundreds of Chicago Teachers Union delegates met Wednesday evening for an update on contract negotiations. And in a largely symbolic show of support for the union, they voted to give their president a power she already had: the ability to issue a ten-day strike notice at her discretion.
Reporters were not allowed into the meeting at Lane Tech High School, but printed materials given to delegates note the union and school district remain far apart on issues from pay to teacher evaluations.
Teacher Mary Fister from LaSalle Language Academy said she wasn't worried about a strike before she attended the meeting, but she was on the way out.
Earlier in the day, Chicago's Board of Education authorized the school district to spend up to $25 million on a strike contingency plan to care for and feed students if teachers go out on strike.
The board wants to end the automatic raises known as "steps" that teachers get for additional years of service. The union wants to protect those, keep out merit pay, and stop hikes on insurance premiums.
Union leaders also raised concerns that schools have not hired the extra teachers promised to staff the longer school day.
And union president Karen Lewis says the union is concerned about job security.
[:20] “They’re talking about restructuring the district. We have been hearing for quite some time that they are planning to close 100 schools. They have denied this in negotiations…. But if that’s their plan I think they should tell people now and be honest and open about it,” Lewis said outside the union’s House of Delegates meeting.
If the union wants to strike, it must give at least 10 days’ notice. Lewis said late Wednesday she does not know when or if she’ll file such a notice. Delegates voted Wednesday to leave the decision up to her.
It would be up to the delegates to actually set a strike date, however. They’re meeting again on Thursday, August 30. The union is running informational pickets--one teacher called them "practice strikes"-- all this week. And this weekend at least some delegates will attend workshops to learn how to run a strike.
As the teachers met, Lane Tech's football practice was getting out. A potential strike was on senior Jacob Suckrow's mind. "As soon as they strike, we can’t practice or anything. And then for however long they strike, every CPS school forfeits those games, and it makes everybody ineligible for state playoffs," said Suckrow.
“We just want to graduate on time and play football,” senior Ian Rundquist chimed in.