Chicago Teachers Union members have voted to authorize a strike, union leaders announced Thursday night, setting the stage for more than 25,000 teachers and staff to walk off the job in the nation's third-largest school district.
CTU President Jesse Sharkey said the union eclipsed the 75 percent threshold needed to authorize a strike at approximately 9:15 p.m. Thursday. Sharkey said that 94 percent of the votes tallied by Thursday evening were in favor of authorizing a strike.
More than 90 percent of votes have been counted, but full vote totals won't be known until Friday at the earliest, Sharkey said, adding that members of the House of Delgates will meet on Oct. 2 and could set a strike date as soon as Oct. 7.
"This is a clear message to the mayor and the Board of Education to address critical needs in our schools," Sharkey said in announcing the vote.
Chicago Public Schools officials say their latest contract offer included a 16% raise, which would put the average teacher salary at nearly $100,000 within the next five years.
But CTU officials say the potential strike is about more than money: they want improvements in areas related to class size, staffing shortages, and provisions related to safety and security of students in areas surrounding schools.
“The typical public school has a nurse one day a week,” Sharkey said Thursday. “We don’t have social workers to deal with intense levels of trauma. The schools are under state supervision for special education, and we need to address shortages there. We need enforceable class size limits as well.”
Union leaders have said they want promises made by then-candidate and now-Mayor Lori Lightfoot in writing, like more social workers, school nurses and librarians, as well as maximum class sizes.
Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools CEO Dr. Janice K. Jackson released a joint statement on Thursday night.
"As a city, we make promises to our children, including ensuring that every single student receives a high-quality education that allows them to live up to their full potential and fulfill their dreams," the statement read, in part. "For the last several months, we have engaged with teachers in a good faith effort to create an inclusive process that listens to their concerns and ideas on how to improve our schools, input which is now reflected in the historic offer that supports our shared progressive values and desire for every child to be equally prepared for success.
"We are committed to doing everything we can to finalize a deal that is sustainable for all Chicagoans and for our city's future, that respects our teachers, and continues our students' record-breaking success for years to come," they added.
According to the teachers union, negotiations were expected to resume as soon as Friday.
"We are going to return to the bargaining table tomorrow with an all-day session planned," Sharkey said. "We're going to work with the board to hammer out an agreement."
The union last went on strike in 2012, when a strike lasted for seven days. Nearly 90 percent of teachers voted in favor of that work stoppage.