Chicago Teachers Union Prepares for Possible Strike as Chicago Public Schools Set to Begin the School Year

Hundreds of people looking to be hired by the district attended a job fair Wednesday, even as the teachers union tells members to prepare for a strike

Chicago Public Schools is set to open for a new school year in less than three weeks, but the question remains - will schools stay open?

The Chicago Teachers Union is telling its members to prepare for a strike, just as CPS laid off nearly 1,000 teachers and staff members.

Hundreds of people looking to be hired by the district, including teachers who were recently laid off, made their way to a job fair Wednesday, even as the school system faces a financial crisis and the very real possibility of a strike looms overhead.

"I was really surprised because you don't expect that," said CPS teacher Abeni Hester. "But when you are not tenured, things can happen that are out of your control, the budget issues."

"I'd like to make it to 20 years, which I thought would be no problem but I don't know at this point," Tom Borst, another CPS teacher added.  

The teachers who weren't laid off are threatening to walk out like they did four years ago, especially if CPS demands the new contract will include phasing in the 7 percent pension payment now paid by the city.

"I want the teachers to be part of the solution, there's a pay raise in there for them," Mayor Emanuel said. "There are changes to also make sure they get a pension. It's their pension, they individually retire on it."

As for the timing of a strike, CTU president Karen Lewis said schools will open on time. 

"I think we have to because we need to have conversations with our members," Lewis said. "We haven't haven't had them yet."

And even though teachers voted already and approved a strike, they may be asked to vote again.

"We're thinking about it," Lewis added. "We haven't made our decision but it may be a good organizing tool."

So as students get ready to return to the classroom, those at the job fair looking for a new position at CPS say even with the threat of a strike, they still want to work.

"It's kind of iffy, but I'm willing to take a chance," said Gresinda Griffin.

"Having CPS on your resume means you worked as a teacher," added Alexis Nwankwo.

Some are suggesting there won't be a strike until after September 16th, which is when teachers receive their first paycheck of the school year. Meanwhile, weekly negotiations continue between the union and the district.

CPS schools are set to open the day after Labor Day, on Tuesday September 6th.

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