Updated 08/29/12 – 9:57 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — A strike by Chicago Public Schools teachers could be just days away, after the Chicago Teachers Union filed a 10-day strike notice amid a continuing contract stalemate.
The union officially filed its 10-day notice with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board Wednesday afternoon.
The letter notifies the school district of the union’s “intent to strike after at least ten calendar days.”
The move was not unexpected, but also was not what parents and school officials wanted to hear.
CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley reports the move means more than 26,000 public school teachers, clinicians and paraprofessionals could go on strike as early as Sept. 10, although there is no guarantee teachers will do so.
No actual strike date has been set. The union’s House of Delegates plans to meet Thursday, and could set an official strike date at that meeting.
Wednesday afternoon, CTU President Karen Lewis told reporters there’s been so little progress in ongoing contract talks, that the union had no choice but to act.
Lewis said, “This is a difficult decision for all of us to make, but this is the only way to get the [Chicago Board of Education’s] attention.”
She said the CPS administration has fought the union every step of the way, and seems in constant need of a wakeup call. She said the 10-day strike notice should provide one.
CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov reports Lewis said the strike notice is just the latest in a string of actions intended to move along negotiations with CPS.
“They didn’t start negotiating seriously until we put 10,000 people in the street on May 23rd,” Lewis said, referring to a massive rally by teachers, parents and others in support of better pay for teachers in a new contract. “They didn’t start really negotiating seriously until we took a strike authorization vote. And then, again, they didn’t start really negotiating seriously until we got the fact-finder’s report back.”
Lewis also blasted CPS policies, saying students essentially have been called failures, by being told their progress is never enough, and by constantly setting the bar higher. She also said teachers feel insulted.
“CPS seems determined to have a toxic relationship with its employees. We have been belittled, bullied, and betrayed by this administration. Our members are demoralized, and this district is doing all it can to take the joy out of teaching and learning,” Lewis said.
She pointed to a list of grievances that have damaged the district’s credibility with teachers.
“They denied us our 4 percent raises, when there was money in the budget to honor our agreement,” Lewis said. “They attempted to ram a poorly-thought-out longer school day down our throats, and on top of that, they want us to teach a new curriculum.”
According to Lewis, the two sides still haven’t discussed pay, and several other key issues. Despite that, she said the union intends to remain at the table, even if teachers walk.
“We want people to understand that this step is a necessary step, and – frankly – one that could have been avoided, had CPS worked with us from the very beginning,” she said. “Instead, they have fought us every step of the way.”
Lewis said the progress being made in contract talks is on little issues, such as lunch periods. She said, if achieving a contract were a 100-step process, they’d be on step 23.
“We will have a contract, and it will come the easy way, or the hard way,” Lewis added.
Earlier Wednesday, CPS Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard said the last thing public school students need is a strike, but said the system must be prepared in case teachers walk out.
The school board has earmarked $25 million to fund a strike contingency plan.
A number of activities and services would be offered to students, but instruction wouldn’t be one of them.
“We cannot provide classroom teaching for our kids. That’s unfortunate, because – again – they’ll be losing a lot. So that’s the one thing we cannot provide for. We’re looking for what else we have to provide, as a community, to make sure our kids are safe, and are fed.”
CPS has confirmed it will partner with community organizations and non-profit groups to provide various activities in the event of the strike. Many of the alternative sites will be at those community organizations and non-profits, not at school buildings.
CPS has been holding back on announcing the details and locations of the activities that would be provided under its contingency plans.
Now that strike notification has been filed, a schools spokesman said you can expect those details to be coming soon, so parents have time to plan.