A group of religious leaders on Wednesday accepted the Chicago Teachers Union's officer to watch while strike authorization ballots are counted.
"We have nothing to hide. We want transparency in this vote and who better than the clergy to give us an honest assessment of how this went?" said CTU Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle.
Rev. John Thomas said it was important to that the public know that the vote is "well-conducted, openly conducted and fairly conducted."
Chicago teachers began casting ballots earlier in the day to decide whether a strike could be in their futures.
Teachers maintain the strike authorization vote is all about leverage as contract negotiations continue and both sides remain far apart on salary and instructional hours. Voting began at 6 a.m. and could continue for up to three days until all 25,000 eligible teachers get a chance to weigh in.
The ballot is simple: check the "yes" box to authorize the union to call a strike at a later date or "no" to vote against the action. State law requires a 75 percent threshold to call a strike, and anyone who does not participate is considered a "no" vote.
"We don't want to strike," said Samantha Sims, an English teacher. "I tell my kids all the time it's nothing personal. Sometimes you just have to send a message."
"They took away our raise this year and then came back with a two percent raise," said Karen Grant-Niles, a school nurse. "Do you think that's fair?"
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis voted at King College Prep, 4445 S. Drexel Blvd., where she used to teach. Lewis made the school rounds Tuesday with other CTU leaders to answer questions and inform teachers about the process.
CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said the mood is positive.
"People are anxious to get a contract," Sharkey said Tuesday night. "They think the board's offers are unreasonable right now, and they want to send a message with a 'Yes' vote to the board that it's time to start bargaining seriously."
It comes after tense negotiations over higher teachers' pay for the coming longer school day. CPS chief Jean-Claude Brizard and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have both said it's wrong to hold the authorization vote before a compromise report returns next month from an independent review board.
"Teachers deserve a pay raise, we'll work toward that, and the kids don't deserve a strike," Emanuel said Tuesday, "and I think if everybody's time and energy is focused on working with the independent, third-party negotiator or arbitrator, we will find that common ground to achieve both objectives."
The union said they must hold the vote now. After the report comes out, Lewis said, there is a no-strike window, and the union points out the report won't arrive until after teachers start summer break.
"The fact finder will only address four or five things," Lewis said after submitting her ballot. "Our contracts deal with a whole host of issues."
"We'd like to get this process moving and we think that the bargaining will be more fruitful through the summer and we'll have a better chance of getting resolve for the fall if we start bargaining now," said Sharkey.
Faye Lynn, a library media specialist, said "trust is broken" with Emanuel and CPS.
"I'm against that they want to remove all the language regarding class size maximums," Lynn said.