Chicago teachers, clinicians and paraprofessional union members have voted by a wide margin to authorize a strike, as early as Oct. 7.
Chalkbeat Chicago reports that 94% of Chicago Teachers Union members who voted supported a walkout if the two sides cannot reach a contract agreement.
“This is a clear signal from the members of the Chicago Teachers Union that we need the mayor and the Board of Education to address critical needs across our schools,” says union President Jesse Sharkey.
The Chicago district has about 360,000 students and is the third-largest public school system in the United States.
In a joint statement, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and school district CEO Janice Jackson say they have been bargaining for months “in a good faith effort to create an inclusive process” that took into consideration teachers’ concerns and ideas for improving schools.
“We are committed to doing everything we can to finalize a deal that is sustainable for all Chicagoans and for our city’s future, that respects our teachers, and continues our students’ record-breaking success.”
The vote does not guarantee that teachers will strike, but the union can now announce a walkout date with 10 days’ notice.
Negotiations are continuing between the city and union. The teachers’ contract with the district expired June 30.
Talks have stalled primarily over whether or not to include additional staff into the union contract. The two sides also haven’t agreed on class sizes, prep time, pay, health care, or the length of the contract.
The district said it is has put a significant pay raise on the table — a 16% raise over five years for teachers.
The joint statement from the mayor and schools chief asserts that they have proposed a pay deal that would make Chicago teachers “among the highest compensated in the nation” and have committed to increasing support staff.
Sharkey said the strike vote is not just about pay and benefits."
We care deeply about the learning and working conditions in our schools,” he says.
The union is seeking class size limits and for the city to lock in firm numbers of nurses, social workers, and special education positions in the contract.
In addition to the threat of a teachers strike, Service Employees International Union Local 73, the union representing nearly 8,000 Chicago Public Schools support staff, also have voted to authorize a strike. Those employees also could walk out in October, causing further disruptions at schools.
The city’s last full-fledged teacher strike was in 2012. That year, teachers walked off the job for the first time in 25 years.