CHICAGO – Teachers in the nation's third-largest school district announced Monday that they have overwhelming support for a strike, but several steps remain before a possible walkout could take place next month.
About 95 percent of the Chicago Teachers Union's voting members favored the strike authorization after several days of high-turnout voting last week. The support was widely expected; about 88 percent supported a strike in a similar vote last December.
To strike, the union needs 75 percent support and must provide school officials 10 days' notice. CTU's governing board meets Wednesday to determine next steps. If board members decide to give notice, the earliest possible first day of a strike would be Oct. 11.
Union officials said the vote should come as "no surprise" to school officials or parents, citing cuts in the cash-strapped school district.
"Educators have been angry about the school-based cuts that have hurt special education students, reduced librarians, counselors, social workers and teachers' aides, and eliminated thousands of teaching positions," the union said in a statement.
The move ratchets up the pressure in contract talks that have already stretched over a year. Cost-of-living raises, pension contributions and health care have been key issues for the union's approximately 25,000 members.
CTU staged a one-day walkout in April, but the last major strike was during the last round of contract negotiations in 2012. Teachers picketed for seven days over evaluations, job security and classroom conditions -- Chicago's first teachers' strike in 25 years.
CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said a strike can be averted.
"A strike is a very serious step that affects the lives of thousands of parents and children, and we hope that before taking the final steps toward a strike, the CTU's leadership works hard at the bargaining table to reach a fair deal," Bittner said in a statement.
The vote comes as the approximately 400,000-student district is experiencing serious financial problems. Credit rating agencies have put the district at "junk" status. The district's $5.4 billion budget relies on increased property taxes, borrowing and $215 million in state money contingent on a statewide pension overhaul.
Schools CEO Forrest Claypool has said that if the state doesn't come through, the district will have to cut money from classrooms.