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Nearly 90 percent of Chicago teachers authorize strike

teach-CST-061212-1(240wide)Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis addressed the media at a news conference on Monday. On the right is CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times


Votes % of membership
Yes 23,780 89.73%
No 482 1.82%
Non-voters, spoiled ballots 2,240 8.45%
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Updated: July 13, 2012 6:14AM

Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard Monday called the largest strike authorization mandate in Chicago Teachers Union history a reflection of local “frustration” and national “anger’’ from teachers tired of being “vilified.’’

“What I see in the numbers is a level of anger and frustration of being asked to do so much without the proper dollars to support it,’’ Brizard told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“What you are hearing from this is much more than [ a comment on ] a negotiation with [Chicago Public Schools]. This is national angst and anger from teachers who are being vilified and asked to do everything, and they cannot.

“What I say to the CTU is, ‘I don’t disagree with a lot of what you are talking about. But we don’t have the funding. ... I have a budget I have to live with.’’

Brizard commented hours after CTU President Karen Lewis announced that nearly 90 percent of the union’s membership had voted to authorize a strike at a date to be set, if needed, by the union’s House of Delegates. Although the vote moved the union one step closer to its first strike since 1987, Lewis said she hoped to use it as leverage at the bargaining table.

“The results are not a win,’’ Lewis said at a news conference announcing the vote. “They are an indictment on the state of the relationship between the management of CPS and its largest labor force, members of the Chicago Teachers Union.’’

The CTU and the school district have been wrangling since November over wages, benefits, language on class size, a plan to tie teacher pay to student test results and other issues. The teacher strike authorization vote announced Monday reflected a disagreement over all that — and a lot more, teachers and others said.

In the trenches, at Gage Park High School, civics teacher Victor Harbison said the vote represents “the failed leadership of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his [appointed school] staff. They took up the mantle of leadership, said ‘Follow me,’ and 90 percent of the people said, `No thanks’….

“We’re not agitators; we’re moms and dads and members of the community,’’ Harbison said. “I think we deserve a good contract. We feel threatened at every turn. We’re blamed for things that are way beyond our control.’’

Emanuel himself refused to take questions on the historic strike authorization vote Monday, but Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s floor leader, said the CTU’s initial demand for a 29 percent pay raise over two years is “an impossibility.’’

“If they stay on that demand they’ve made, there would be no choice on whether we’d be able to take a strike or not. There would be one. There isn’t enough money to do that,’’ O’Connor said.

However, Lewis said the CTU’s opening proposal reflected, in year one, the imposition of a 20 percent longer school day and year combined with the elimination of a promised 4 percent raise this year, followed by a five percent raise the second year. But, that was merely an opener and “that’s why it’s called negotiations,’’ Lewis said.

The board’s counteroffer guaranteeing all teachers only a 2 percent raise for the first year of a five-year contract is “outrageous,’’ particularly given the longer, “harder’’ year teachers face ahead, when a new teacher evaluation system and tougher curriculum kicks in, Lewis said.

She questioned why Brizard wasn’t publicly commenting on teacher “frustration’’ before now.
“I think the level of frustration is extraordinarily high. If he’s just hearing it this week, I don’t understand why he wasn’t hearing it before,’’ Lewis said.

Earlier in the day, Brizard issued a statement calling the vote “a shame,’’ and saying the union should have waited for a fact-finder, created by the same law that increased the union’s strike authorization threshold, to issue his July 16 recommendation.

Asked if the huge strike authorization vote would make him sweeten his offer, Brizard said, “The fact finder is hard at work. Both CTU and CPS are at this. I’m going to let the process work. ... There’s been offers and counter-offers. Ultimately, there will be a compromise.’’

Contributing: Stefano Esposito

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