Chicago Teachers Union Rallies Ahead of Strike Vote

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union held a rally downtown during the evening rush hour Monday in anticipation of a vote on a teachers' strike amid ongoing contract negotiations and the threat of layoffs.

The rally was scheduled to take place from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Butler Field in Grant Park with a pre-rally event beginning at 4:30 p.m.

CTU President Karen Lewis delivered a keynote address at the rally, which saw thousands of teachers, students, parents, activists, clergy and elected officials in attendance. Hip hop group Rebel Diaz was also scheduled to perform. 

According to the union, the goal of the rally was to "showcase the union's solidarity and prepare its members for an upcoming strike authorization vote." Earlier this month, the union claimed 97 percent of teachers would vote to authorize a strike based on a practice vote. The results also showed that many members are questioning their confidence in Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool and his ability to restore public trust in the school district, according to CTU officials.

Claypool released a statement on behalf of CPS hours before the rally was scheduled to begin, saying they are "looking for a solution, not a strike."

"We are in the middle of good faith bargaining discussions with our partners at the CTU," Claypool said in the statement. "At CPS, we are looking for a solution, not a strike. It's a sad day when the CTU won't join us in Springfield to fight for equal funding for Chicago's schoolchildren, who receive $3 for every $4 that students in other districts receive." 

School officials have warned that pink slips could be coming to thousands of CPS employees in January if Springfield doesn't come through with a budget fix. CTU says the layoffs would cut teachers as well as essential programs.

CPS and CTU have hired a mediator to help with their contract negotiations, but the process is not yet complete, according to CPS officials. They say fact-finding should begin on Feb. 8, 2016, if an agreement still has not been reached.

More than 95 percent of union members participated in the practice vote, according to CTU officials. In a real vote, the union needs 75 percent of their membership to agree to a strike.

Similar CTU rallies were held in 2012 when teachers went on strike for the first time in 25 years. The strike was prompted over failure to reach agreements with the school board on a myriad of issues, including salary, health benefits and job security.

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