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Teachers union accuses CPS of trying to sabotage strike authorization vote

Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard meets with mediafter speaking parent training sessiChristian Fellowship Flock Church 10724 S. Ewing. Wednesday

Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard meets with the media after speaking to a parent training session at the Christian Fellowship Flock Church, 10724 S. Ewing. Wednesday, June 6, 2012. | Brian Jackson~Chicago Sun-Times.

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The Chicago Teachers Union is charging that a blast email from Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard to all teachers on the eve of a strike authorization vote constituted an illegal attempt to sabotage the vote.

In a complaint filed with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, the union contended that Brizard’s letter was “carefully designed to coerce members from exercising their right to vote in favor of a strike.’’

By the second day of voting Thursday, CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said more than half of the union’s 25,500 members had voted and “we are well pleased with what we are seeing.’’

A “yes’’ vote from at least 75 percent of all members is needed to authorize the House of Delegates to set a strike date if needed in the future. Failure to vote counts as a “no” vote under a new law affecting only Chicago teachers.

Gadlin said the outcome of the three-day vote probably won’t be announced until next week because “we are going through it with a fine tooth comb. We know we are going to be challenged. We want to be 100 percent accurate in what we report.’’

In his June 6 letter to teachers on the eve of the vote’s Wednesday start, Brizard told CTU members that “there is no need to rush to vote now,’’ and they could do so instead at the end of August, after a fact-finder produces recommendations due July 16.

Brizard’s letter to teachers stated that the new fact-finding process “must be allowed to work itself through” and “authorizing a strike will likely derail that process, not aid it.’’ He called a strike authorization vote “a very serious action with tremendous consequences.’’

In its unfair labor practice charge, the CTU accused Brizard of trying to “hijack’’ the union’s right to determine the timing of a strike authorization vote, of trying to “dissuade” members from voting and of attempting to “create fear among teachers.’’

Brizard’s letter was completely within his purview, Chicago Public School Communications Chief Becky Carroll countered Thursday.

“We have every right to communicate the truth to our teachers, since CTU has deliberately misrepresented our initial proposals to their members who’ve been asked to authorize a strike well in advance of the independent fact-finder’s compromise report.”

CPS officials facing a $700 million deficit have offered teachers a 2-percent raise next school year, followed by a pay freeze and then three years of “differentiated pay,’’ based on a formula that wouldn’t even be discussed until January.

Union officials say the offer is “insulting’’ given the Board of Education’s decision to rescind a scheduled 4-percent raise this school year and to impose a longer, “harder’’ day next school year, filled with several new challenges for teachers.

Also Thursday, the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board refused a CPS request for an “emergency preservation order’’ for all documents related to the strike authorization vote. The “emergency rule making’’ required by such a request is not justified, but can begin instead as scheduled July 1, the board’s executive director found.

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