Chicago Teachers Union Threatens Chicago Public Schools with Possible May 1 Strike

Always teetering on shaky grounds, CPS now faces the possibility of a teachers strike if it does not grant concessions to the Chicago Teachers Union.

On Wednesday, the union began talking about a potential walkout on May 1 to address CPS’ issues that might result in officials ending the school year 13 days early.

Karen Lewis, the president of CTU, addressed reporters at the union’s headquarters in West Town. She said that if the board cancels these school days, teachers would see this as a “massive violation” of their contract (The Chicago Tribune). CPS is considering shortening the school year because of the ongoing CPS budget crisis, exacerbated by Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of $215 million in funds in December.

The union's House of Delegates approved a discussion period before they vote on April 5 for or against the May Day strike (The Chicago Tribune).

CTU’s opposition is in response to unpaid furlough days and frozen school budgets, along with the threat of an early ending to the school year and the termination of summer school.

“…If we don't fight back, if we stay at home and they threaten us with furloughs and school closures, if we cower under the covers, then we are never going to stop these fights,” Lewis said at the news conference on Wednesday, according to The Chicago Tribune.

If Springfield does not offer assistance, Lewis is pushing Mayor Rahm Emanuel to use tax-increment financing funds to help resolve the budget gap.

Another avenue for influencing school budgets is the courtroom. The Chicago Board of Education recently accused Rauner and the Illinois State Board of Education of discriminating against minority children in Chicago, and not providing them with proper funding relative to school districts in other parts of the state. The city’s school board hopes the judge will expedite this lawsuit, so that a decision and funds might arrive sooner. You can read more about the case here: These Days.

This situation probably sounds familiar, as it is definitely not the first time the CTU has threatened CPS with a strike. The union had a one-day work stoppage last April because of stalemated contract talks and the budget impasse. CPS’ financial burden, at that point, had similarly led to furlough days and teacher layoffs. CTU members protested Springfield’s refusal to provide adequate funding to the district and Rauner’s anti-union stance.

CPS CEO Forrest Claypool condemned the strike on April 1 as illegal, and he filed a complaint with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, which agreed to ask a judge to grant preliminary injunction relief to prevent future strikes (abc7). Lewis said the union would not partake in another strike unless it aligned with state law (The Chicago Tribune). If the strike on International Workers’ Day occurs, it will lead to new arguments about whether the CTU can strike outside of state law.

Lewis referenced the strike in April on Wednesday, as she said it brought new money to the school district and helped CTU negotiate a contract later that year. In October, amidst threats of another strike, CTU and CPS officials reached a deal. Now, CPS is dishonoring that contract by threatening to end the school year early, which would further cut teachers’ pay, Lewis said (The Chicago Tribune).

A spokesperson for CPS, Emily Bittner, laid the blame for CPS’ actions at Rauner’s feet and encouraged the union to stand with the district in the fight against the governor. “…We should all work to avoid students losing days of instruction and teachers losing days of pay,” she said on Wednesday, according to The Chicago Tribune. Bittner added that teachers who participate in the strike will not be paid that day.

Lewis requested that CPS officials reconsider the next planned furlough day, on April 7, to prove they are serious about working with the union.  The district, however, encouraged the union to hold their potential walkout on that day (The Chicago Tribune).

Many union members feel their pleas have remained unanswered and they are running out of options. Members also distrust CPS and Emanuel’s board of education; Lewis has long questioned CPS officials’ intentions. At the end of the day, though, the union does hold Rauner and the local government accountable for the massive budget hole.

“The political leaders of this state made a promise to fund public education and keep school doors open. This is an act of desperation for us,” said the vice president of the CTU, Jesse Sharkey, according to ABC7.