CFL News
June 11, 2012

Sources: Chicago Public Schools teachers authorize strike

More than 75 percent of Chicago Teachers Union members would need to vote to authorize a strike later this year

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

By Rosalind Rossi

Chicago Teachers Union officials are expected to announce Monday that they have handily met a new 75 percent strike authorization threshold, despite a blitzkrieg of emails and ads against the action, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

The union concluded three days of voting Friday and a weekend of ballot counting by meeting its tougher new strike threshold “easily” and “overwhelmingly,’’ sources told the Sun-Times.

Although the vote moves the CTU one step closer to its first strike since 1987, union officials have repeatedly cautioned that they hope to use any strike authorization vote to catalyze movement at the bargaining table and resolve talks before the opening day of next school year.

In addition, before the nation’s third-largest school system goes on strike, the union’s House of Delegates would have to set a strike date.

A new Chicago-only law backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Stand for Children and others switched the margin needed for any CTU strike authorization from a simple majority of all those who voted to 75 percent of all eligible CTU voters. That meant failure to vote amounted to a “no’’ vote. As a result, several schools reported 100 percent of their CTU members had cast ballots.

And although some have raised questions about the integrity of the CTU’s voting procedure, the number to be announced Monday will “lay to rest the question” of whether the CTU “got it legitimately. It’s not even close,’’ said one source.

The action defies predictions of one force behind the law that created the new threshold. Jonah Edelman of Stand for Children bragged last year that “the union cannot strike in Chicago. They will never be able to muster the 75 percent threshold needed to strike.’’

Chicago Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard sent a blast-email to CPS teachers on the eve of the opening of their vote, telling them that they should wait for a July 16 recommendation from a fact-finder created by the new law. To do otherwise, he wrote teachers, would be “premature’’ and “disrespectful” of the fact-finding process. He told them they could vote, if necessary, during the week before school starts.

District officials have argued that a strike authorization vote should be based on the fact-finder’s recommendation or a final contract offer, rather than what they contend are slanted or inaccurate CTU representations of the CPS offer.

However, CTU President Karen Lewis has insisted that the law was silent on when a strike authorization vote can be held. A vote now is legal and necessary to move talks that have lingered since November, she has said.

The vote follows radio ads and even robo-calls by an affiliate of Democrats for Education Reform, calling on residents to text message a number and register support for waiting for the fact-finding process to conclude.

Faced with what district officials say is a $700 million deficit, officials have offered teachers a 2 percent raise next year, followed by a pay freeze and then three years of “differentiated pay’’ under a formula that won’t be discussed until January. Teachers have called the offer “insulting” as it follows the cancellation of a negotiated 4 percent raise this year, the unilateral imposition of a longer school day next year, and several new academic challenges for teachers.