Chicago teachers overwhelmingly approved to authorize a strike, if needed, amid financial woes and potential layoffs, the Chicago Teachers Union announced Monday.
CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said 88 percent of the 22,678 teachers who voted last week approved a strike. That's out of the 24,752 eligible voters, he said.
Last week, educators spent three days voting on whether or not they would authorize a strike if a contract agreement can't be reached. If at least 75 percent of union members voted for strike authorization, a teachers strike next semester would be possible, but not guaranteed.
The latest vote only authorizes the House of Delegates to set a strike date in the future if a contract agreement is not reached, according to CTU.
Sharkey said the timing of the potential strike would depend on a series of circumstances.
"This thing could come to a head sometime in late March, early April," he said, adding that the process could take longer, resulting in a possible strike at the end of the school year or the beginning of next school year.
The vote was prompted by ongoing contract negotiations and the threat of up to 5,000 layoffs in the district next semester without more financial help from Springfield. The vote began Wednesday and continued through Friday. Any member who failed to vote is automatically counted as a "no" vote.
A practice strike vote was taken in early November, but the word "strike" did not actually appear on the ballot. The vote, nonetheless, was considered a preview for what's to come. In that vote, CTU concluded that 97 percent of its members would vote to authorize a strike if needed.
The teachers strike in 2012, which was the first strike in the Chicago Public Schools district in 25 years, canceled classes for seven days.
"Rahm Emanuel really doesn't need a teachers strike," Sharkey said. "He really doesn't. And what we're telling him is that if he doesn't listen to us, that's what he's going to get."
Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool announced in September that the district could potentially cut 5,000 jobs by February due to the ongoing Illinois budget stalemate. CTU President Karen Lewis said the layoffs would require reprogramming nearly 700 schools, and they would affect between 175,000 and 300,000 students, depending on how the layoffs are structured.
"Chicago Teachers Union members do not want to strike, but we do demand that you listen to us," Sharkey said. "Do not cut our schools, do not lay off educators or balance the budget on our backs."