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Chicago Teachers Union Considers One Day Strike

Updated at 8:15 p.m.

The Chicago Teachers Union will vote next month on whether to call a one-day strike for May 1.

At a meeting Wednesday night, delegates agreed to discuss how the union should respond if Chicago Public Schools decide to end classes on June 1, which is 13 days earlier than scheduled, to help close a $130 million budget hole. 

CTU said a potential strike would only be called if the district actually ends the school year early and teachers did not get paid for those days. 

A complicating factor in CTU’s decision is that CPS could wait until May 1 -- the day CTU would want to hold its one-day strike -- to decide if it will end classes early. May 1 is known as May Day and International Workers Day. 

The district said that if teachers do strike on May 1 they will not get paid for that day.

CPS said that instead of a strike the union should pressure Gov. Bruce Rauner and the state to help the district with the deficit. 

“The Governor’s $215 million cut blew a hole in the CPS budget that is forcing painful choices, and we should all work to avoid students losing days of instruction and teachers losing days of pay,” CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a statement.

CPS also pointed out that the Illinois Educational Labor Board has ruled last year that CTU’s one-day strikes were illegal.

But CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said this is different. Teachers and staff would lose as much as 10 percent of their salary with 13 furlough days, he said, on top of four furloughs already scheduled, he said. Those four unpaid days were scheduled when teachers were supposed to be in school without students. 

“A strike on May 1st is in response to what would be a completely un-contractual, unacceptable cancellation of the end of the school year,” Sharkey said. “We would like to see the district live up to a contract and observe the terms of the contract.”

At this point, Sharkey said, CTU is primarily trying to sort out the proper response to the threat of ending the school year early the furlough threat. 

“This is a discussion we need to have inside of our membership,” he said. “So in faculty rooms and lunchrooms around the city, there are going to be discussions by members of the Chicago Teachers Union about how we are going to respond if there is not some resolution to this budget crisis. How are we going to respond if they don’t find revenue for our schools?”

The union also wants to put pressure on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to try to find additional money for CPS from the city. The union has suggested many ways to increase revenue, including additional taxes on corporations and wealthy Chicagoans.

The potential strike is the latest development in CPS’ most recent budget crisis, this one prompted by Gov. Bruce Rauner’s December veto of $215 million for the school system. CPS had counted on that money to help make a pension payment due in June, but Rauner said it was never guaranteed. 

Rauner said the $215 million was contingent on the passage of a larger state pension reform bill, which didn’t happen. Rauner has argued that CPS’ current fiscal woes are due to what he has called “decades of financial mismanagement.”

Rauner’s office floated a memo this week suggesting that Emanuel could find additional revenue for CPS in the city’s special tax increment financing districts, which are designed to promote economic development. Rauner’s staff also suggested that the governor would sign a bill giving CPS $215 million if it was tied to a state pension reform bill. 

However, the Chicago Teachers Union is not supportive of that pension reform bill.

Given a series of options it doesn’t support, the union must take a stand, Sharkey said. 

“Cowering at home underneath your covers is not going to work,” he said. “That is what will get us these final days of school cancelled, that is what is going to get us some rotten deal in Springfield that will solve this on the backs of pensioners so they will have to choose between medicine and food. The only thing we can do is stop cowering and make a strong statement and a stand.”

Sarah Karp is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow her at @sskedreporter or @wbezeducation.

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