Chicago teachers gave union leadership the power to call a strike by an overwhelming majority.
Roughly 88 percent of all members of the Chicago Teachers Union voted ‘yes’ in a three-day strike vote that took place last week. That is one percent lower than the results of a similar vote in 2012 that led to the first Chicago teachers’ strike in 25 years.
Under state law, the earliest that teachers could walk off the job this time around is March, but union leaders say it could happen closer to the end of the school year or even into next fall.
Chicago Public Schools is facing a $480 million budget hole and leaders are relying on state lawmakers to help them close that gap. In the absence of help, CPS chief Forrest Claypool has said ‘Plan B’ is to make drastic school budget cuts. He has no ‘Plan C’.
“We’re not going to take it lying down that there’s just these big cuts,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. He said members are frustrated that the district’s solutions to the financial crisis would directly hurt teachers.
“We can cut from the schools by doing mass layoffs or we can cut from the schools by making all the teachers work for $25,000 of pay cuts, which is what they’re currently suggesting,” Sharkey said. “That’s a real crisis and it’s a crisis our schools won’t recover from. There’s got to be another way.”
In an e-mailed statement, Claypool said the district has “the highest respect for our teachers’ work,” but a strike is not the answer.
“Rather than strike, we ask that the Chicago Teachers Union join us to fight for our shared goal of equal education funding from Springfield for Chicago’s children,” he wrote.
The talks in Springfield are slow. Republican leaders said last week that they want a budget deal for the state, before addressing school funding. In the meantime, the only bill that has been floated as a fix to CPS’s budget woes doesn’t have support from House Speaker Michael Madigan or the teachers union.
Claypool called the strike vote “premature” because the mediator currently working with both sides has yet to make recommendations for a compromise.
Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. You can follow her @WBEZeducation.