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Teachers Union Prepared For Strike: ‘We’re Fed Up’

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Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said an informal poll of teachers at 150 public schools showed "overwhelming" support for a strike if contract talks with the Emanuel administration break down. (Credit: CBS)

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said an informal poll of teachers at 150 public schools showed “overwhelming” support for a strike if contract talks with the Emanuel administration break down. (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – The Chicago Teacher’s Union said Thursday that contract talks with the Emanuel administration are “cordial,” but the union is also planning for the possibility of a strike.

WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports, to hear CTU President Karen Lewis tell it, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS administrators have taken the joy out of teaching.

“Chicago teachers and paraprofessionals are fed up,” Lewis said Thursday morning. “They’re tired of being blamed, bullied and belittled by the very district that should support them.”

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports

Emanuel said strike talk is a distraction from the teachers’ real job.

“Anytime anybody’s not focused on their first priority – which is teaching our children – that’s where I get angst,” Emanuel said “There will be plenty of time for other discussions. Don’t take away from your main mission, your job, what the people of the city of Chicago, the parents, the taxpayers expect of you, which is to teach our children.”

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports

The union accused Emanuel, CPS Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard, and the Chicago Board of Education of leaving teachers out of efforts to improve schools and forcing them to accept a longer school day and longer school year without explaining how to pay for it or use the extra time to benefit students.

“We’re being asked to work harder and longer, in order to further inflict upon our students mindless experiment after mindless experiment,” Lewis said. “The school district, however, calls these experiments reform. And when their experiments fail, it is the teacher who is blamed and evaluated.”

Lewis said teachers at 150 schools have taken an informal vote and are overwhelmingly in favor of a strike if contract talks break down.

“I’ve never seen anything like this hostile climate,” she said.

She refused, however, to provide a list of the schools polled by the union.

Lewis said ongoing contract talks with CPS are “cordial,” but said “we are still very much far apart.”

Brizard defended CPS officials, saying “everything that we’re doing, honestly, is being done in collaboration with the CTU.”

He also said talk of a strike at this point is unfortunate.

“We shouldn’t be talking about the s-word. Let’s talk about finding a way to work together to improve a system that will benefit nearly a half million children,” Brizard said.

Brizard said the district isn’t thinking about a possible strike, but instead focusing on resolving contract talks.

Authorizing a strike would be a hefty task for the teachers. New legislation passed at the urging of the mayor sets a very high bar before teachers can strike. It requires 75 percent of the union’s members — not just those who vote — to authorize a walkout.

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