Members of the Chicago Teachers Union during the union's last official strike in 2012. | File. Credit: Igor Studenkov/Contributor

Chicago Teachers Union members voted this week to authorize a strike. The vote took place over the course of three days, with the final tally announced on Dec. 14. Eighty-eight percent of CTU members voted to allow the union’s leadership the ability to call a strike — well above the 75 percent threshold required under state law.

The teachers’ union has been without a new contract since June. CTU and Chicago Public Schools spent the past few months negotiating a new contract. While the union has pushed for a one-year contract, the district officials wanted a multi-year contract.

The situation is further complicated by a half-billion dollar hole in this year’s CPS budget. The district board approved with the assumption that the state government would fill in the gap, but since then, the state budget talks have stalled, bringing virtually all money-related proposals to a standstill. CPS CEO Forrest Claypool had publicly stated that, unless the gap is filled, the district would have to lay off as many as 5,000 teachers by February 2016.

On Dec. 16, Claypool announced that the district would be willing to a cut a third of all office administrative staff, cutting $50 million in annual expenses and cutting $100 million more through non-staff efficiencies.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Claypool claimed that, in return, the union would need to agree to gradually phase out the pension pick-up. Since the 1980s, the district covered a large portion of the teachers’ share of the pension contribution, reducing the teachers’ actual contribution from nine percent to two percent. CTU has long opposed the change, arguing that it amounted to a pay cut.

In the union’s official blog, CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey wrote that the teachers wanted CPS to give them more autonomy on issues such as grades, reduce standardized testing and eliminate “time-sucking” compliance paperwork. He also wrote that the teachers wanted CPD to ensure that every school has art, music, science and technology teachers, a nurse and a library with a staff librarian. Sharkey added that the union wanted CPS to approve programs that would address social issues affecting a large portion of the district’s student population.

“While we do not expect the schools to fix homelessness, broken immigration policy, crisis-level unemployment, and racism, we must address the undeniable fact that these problems spill over into our schools and devastate the lives of our children,” Sharkey wrote. “We have modest demands to address these problems — allow our counselors to counsel, approve restorative justice programs in targeted schools, help with translation and bilingual services.”

The union urged CPS to cover the budget shortfall with Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district funds, restructured bank loans and a $1 to $2 tax levy on every sale of futures and financial derivatives. The latter, CTU President Karen Lewis has argued, would generate between $10 billion to $12 billion annually.

According to Catalyst Chicago, even after the strike vote, the teachers wouldn’t be able to strike right away. First, the union must file a request to start a fact-finding process — which the union did last week.

The fact finding process would be organized by a panel of three representatives — one from CPS, one from CTU and one third-party member. The panel would have up to 75 days to review both CTU’s and CPS’s most recent contract proposals and recommend a settlement. Both sides would have 15 days to either accept or reject the panel’s report.

If accepted, the recommendations will make up the new labor contract. But if either side rejects the settlement proposed by the panel, the union must wait 30 days before it can strike. This would mean that union would strike in March 2016 at the earliest. If a strike does happen, it would be the second in three years.