DOWNTOWN— Chicago teachers, clinicians and paraprofessional union members voted by a wide margin to authorize a strike, setting the stage for a walkout less than six months into Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s term. Educators could walk out as early as Oct. 7.
The union said 94 percent of its members voted in favor of a walkout.
With ballots in from 90 percent of schools late Thursday night, the vote meets the 75 percent threshold of support from all active union members required by state law.
“This is a clear signal from the members of the Chicago Teachers Union that we need the mayor and the Board of Education to address critical needs across our schools,” said union President Jesse Sharkey.
The vote does not guarantee that teachers will strike, but the union can now announce a walkout date with 10 days’ notice. The union’s 700-member House of Delegates could vote on a proposed strike day at its next meeting on Oct. 2.
Meanwhile, negotiations will continue between the city and union. Sharkey said bargaining would resume on Friday.
The teachers’ contract with the district expired June 30.
Talks have stalled primarily over whether to write additional staff that the union is demanding into the contract or not. The two sides also haven’t agreed yet on class sizes, prep time, pay, health care, or the length of the contract.
The district said it is has put a generous pay raise on the table — a 16 percent raise over five years for teachers.
Sharkey said Thursday that the vote was not just about pay and benefits. “Pay and benefits alone are not enough, we care deeply about the learning and working conditions in our schools,” he said, stressing the union’s demands for class size limits and staffing commitments in areas such as nursing, social workers and special education.
Both of the city’s major newspapers have editorialized in favor of the district’s offer.
During past teacher walkouts, the school district, park district, and YMCA have offered child care and free lunch for students affected by walkouts.
Chicago could see at least three school-related strikes in October. Besides district teachers, educators at Passages charter school also voted earlier this month to authorize a strike.
And Service Employees International Union Local 73, the union representing nearly 8,000 Chicago Public Schools support staff — whose work ranges from working with special education students to staffing metal detectors at school entrances — won a strike authorization vote last month. Those employees could also walk out in October, causing further disruptions at schools.
During the city’s last contract negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union, in 2016, observers saw a strike as all but inevitable. But district officials made several concessions at the last minute, averting a full-fledged strike.