Contract negotiations between the union and the Chicago Board of Education have become heated. The teachers' contract expires June 30.
The union wants to get the ballots out before the schools break for the summer. Union leaders also said they would talk to teachers and answer their questions about the strike authorization vote.
Union President Karen Lewis was upbeat as she visited Lane Tech College Prep Tuesday amidst preparations for the strike authorization vote the union plans to hold starting Wednesday.
"Everybody is very ready to say yes," Lewis said. "We're hoping to get the overwhelming majority of our vote in tomorrow, but if someone is absent tomorrow, we'll give them the opportunity to vote on Thursday or Friday or however long this is going to take."
The teachers union and the school district are embroiled in stalled negotiations for the new contract. Primary sticking points relate to compensation, school resources and job security.
Unable to reach agreement, proposals from both sides are now being analyzed by an independent fact-finder who must present a compromise to the parties by mid-July.
Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard has called on the union to delay their vote until after that compromise solution is brought forth.
"It's premature. It's insulting to teachers. We all know they deserve to have a raise. They're asked to do more, they deserve to get more," said Brizard.
"We are hoping -- we are praying -- that we will have a contract at the end of this process. That's the whole purpose, but we are not going to take a vote in the middle of the summer when no one is here," Lewis said.
It is worth mentioning that taking the strike authorization vote now allows approximately 1,500 retiring teachers -- most of whom are expected to be strong union backers -- to vote.
In order for the strike authorization vote to pass, the law requires 75 percent of the union's 26,000 members to vote yes. Although getting the required number of votes doesn't necessarily mean there will be a strike, it provides the CTU with leverage it clearly wants.
But, says Lewis, it's not a scare tactic.
"We're not talking strike. We're trying to get a contract, and I think people need to understand that, and this vote will help us get a contract," Lewis said.
"Our kids cannot afford this. We talk about time on task. Our kids can't afford to not be in school," said Brizard.
The year 1987 was the last time that the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike.
As the law stands currently, the union must wait until the fact-finder issues its recommendations July 16. After that, there is a 15-day window during which -- if either side rejects those recommendations --the union has one month to call for a strike. That could place the timing of it between August 17 and August 27, just before the beginning of the next school year.
At this point, union leaders are still insisting they hope it does not come to that.
CPS CEO Brizard sent letters to teachers Tuesday criticizing the timing of the vote and the information being sent by the union to its members:
"Last Friday, Karen Lewis advised the media that CTU would conduct a strike authorization vote in our schools beginning Wednesday, June 6. I want to take this opportunity to share some concerns I have about moving forward with a strike vote at this early point in the contract negotiation process. I also want to address a flyer distributed today and intended to influence member's votes that includes information about CPS proposals that is grossly inaccurate.
"As you know, CPS and CTU are in the middle of the collective bargaining process established in the recent Illinois Education Reform Legislation (SB7), created by CPS, CTU and other union leaders and education stakeholders across the state. This legislation, carefully crafted by a diverse group of stakeholders, was specifically designed to foster negotiation and avoid a strike. Moving forward with a strike authorization vote at this time undermines the intent and spirit of the law, as CTU members would be voting to authorize a strike before allowing the independent fact finder to complete his process and release his compromise proposal on July 16. It's very important that everyone is informed of the facts surrounding proposals that have been made at the bargaining table.
"First, CTU is asking for this authorization to strike based upon CPS's initial salary offer which was made in response to CTU's demand from CPS for a 24% increase on July 1, 2012 and a 5% increase on July 1, 2013 (which equates to an increase between 27% and 39% with steps included). With a projected $3 billion deficit over the next three years, we cannot afford a 30% raise, but teachers deserve a raise and will receive one that is fair. How much that raise should be is in the hands of an independent fact finder. Asking CTU members to authorize a strike-an authorization they will not be able to take back-before that process is complete and a recommendation is made is premature, disrespectful of the process, and does not allow teachers to make an informed decision when voting.
"Second, I am very disappointed by the CTU leadership's inaccurate and misleading representations made to its members and the public about the proposals that have been made by CPS. More concerning is the fact that members have been asked to authorize a strike based on these false and misleading claims. Contrary to what CTU has said publically:
- CPS is not changing its class size policy and has told CTU this repeatedly.
- CPS has maintained the class size monitoring panel to enforce class size limits.
- CPS has enhanced staffing levels by maintaining quota positions and giving schools an additional $130 million in discretionary funding that can be used for additional staff positions.
- CPS has offered teachers significantly more planning and professional development time for both elementary and high school teachers.
- CPS has offered CTU members a recall right to assure additional job security (which the current agreement does not include).
"Third, Ms. Lewis and Jesse Sharkey have indicated that they want to conduct a strike vote now so that retiring and resigning employees will have a vote on the issue. A strike authorization vote is a very serious action with tremendous consequences, and it is wrong to ask those who will not bear the consequences of a strike to participate in a vote to authorize it.
There is no need to rush to vote now, and it is false that the only alternative to a vote now is a vote over the summer. The earliest date a strike could be authorized by law would be between August 17 and August 31. All teachers will be back in school by August 27, a week before all students are back in school. Therefore, a strike vote can take place in the end of August when teachers can make an informed vote based on the details of the final independent compromise proposal.
"I am confident that CPS and CTU will reach an agreement that is fair to its members, students and taxpayers. My team and I are committed to that. I was a teacher, my wife was a teacher, both my parents were teachers, and many of the members of my leadership team are former teachers. We not only respect and support the work that you do, but believe very strongly that you deserve a raise. But the process by which that occurs must be allowed to work itself through. Authorizing a strike will likely derail that process, not aid it. We must continue to negotiate in good faith and wait until the final compromise proposal by the independent fact finder is released before moving forward with an action that will impact every teacher and student in the district. Most importantly, a strike would hit our students the hardest.
"Thank you for all that you do on behalf of our students."