As Chicago Public Schools kicked off a new school year Tuesday, union leaders continued to prepare for a potential strike.
The Chicago Teachers Union has been working without a contract for more than a year. If no agreement is reached, the union is discussing a potential strike in mid-October, or sooner, according to sources close to the decision.
CTU President Karen Lewis wrote a letter to union members Monday.
“We will not work another year without a contract, so negotiations with the board are a priority and a major part of the context in which we begin the school year,” she added. “The other major part is the education of our city’s nearly 400,000 public school students.”
After the district laid off nearly 1,000 teachers and staff members last month, union leaders directed members to gear up for a possible strike.
The union sees a new contract proposal as a serious sticking point. CPS has proposed phasing in a 7 percent pension payment for teachers that was previously covered by the city. Lewis has said teachers will strike if the payment is imposed on union members. On Tuesday, the union president acknowledged that negotiations were still ongoing, noting that the union has yet to make a decision on the strike.
"We're not close on some issues, we're close on others," Lewis told NBC 5's Mary Ann Ahern Tuesday.
"You know, people want a yes or no answer and, again, it's way more complicated than that," she added.
The CTU’s House of Delegates will meet Wednesday to discuss setting a possible strike date. Union leaders would have to file a 10-day strike notice with the State Labor Board if an official date is decided.
Nevertheless, a strike could still be averted. On Monday, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said the two sides in the teacher contract talks “are at the table every day,” the Chicago Tribune reports.
"Our teachers do great work, we've seen the results," Claypool said during a press conference Tuesday. "And we want to be as generous as we can. We hope that teachers will say yes to the healthy raise we have on the table."
According to the Tribune, the CTU says the two sides are roughly $300 million apart in their negotiations. The union last staged a strike in 2012.
During a Tuesday press conference at Burke Elementary, Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised CPS’ commitment to offering students a comprehensive education that incorporates the arts, but failed to comment on a potential CTU strike.