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CTU plans 1-day strike and downtown ‘shutdown’ on April 1

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey (pictured on Jan. 21, 2016) insisted on Tuesday that a one-day Chicago Public Schools strike was legal. | Brian Jackson/ For the Sun-Times

Chicago Teachers Union leaders will ask their House of Delegates next week to approve an April 1 day of “mass demonstrations,” starting with a morning walkout at schools and followed by an afternoon “shutdown” of downtown, CTU officials said Tuesday.

CTU leaders hope turnout at the evening rush-hour rally — tied to a lack of state school funding for kindergarten through college — will surpass the thousands of union workers who took over Michigan Avenue in the May 2012 runup to a seven-day CTU strike.

“We’re calling for mass demonstrations,” CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey told the Chicago Sun-Times. “We think there needs to be disruption.

“We hope to be joined by tens of thousands of parents and their children, university students, people who rely on social services and workers from all over Chicago to shut down downtown Chicago in a mass show of support for school funding,” Sharkey added.

On Tuesday, Sharkey insisted a one-day Chicago Public Schools strike was legal, even if it spilled over into broader action downtown tied to a state budget stalemate that has imperiled the CPS budget, grants for state public university students, and scores of state social services.

“If the powers that be want to tell us it is illegal to fight for school funding, then let the governor send in the National Guard, and we’ll see who looks ridiculous,’’ Sharkey said.

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner called any one-day strike “illegal” because fact-finding has yet to conclude on attempts to resolve a CTU contract that expired last summer.

“Regardless of CTU’s actions, April 1 is a school day, and we expect teachers to be in classrooms teaching and students to be in classrooms learning,’’ Bittner said in an emailed statement.

“Our students get one chance at an education and we will continue to negotiate in good faith with CTU. We will also stay in communication with parents,’’ Bittner said.

Meanwhile, the district is “looking at our options’’ on how to fight the one-day strike threat, Bittner said.

CTU attorney Robert Bloch insisted a one-day strike was legal because it would be based on an “unfair labor practice” charge tied to the district’s failure to pay so-called “step and lane” increases for experience and credentials this school year.

Unfair labor practice strikes are not bound by the same restrictions as a strike over a contract, Bloch said. In addition, he said, they only require a simple-majority approval from those present at a House of Delegates meeting and not the three-quarters majority needed for a contract strike vote.

The House of Delegates is set to meet Wednesday, March 23, on the call for a one-day strike. Sharkey said CTU leaders will ask delegates to approve a plan for teachers to spend the morning of April 1 picketing outside their school and to spend the afternoon downtown.

An exact route for the downtown rally has not been determined, but CTU leaders hope thousands of CPS parents, students, public university instructors, state social service workers and others will join them in taking over the streets of the Loop through the evening rush hour, Sharkey said.

“We’d like to see tens of thousands of people join us so the economically and politically powerful people hear the message,’’ Sharkey said.

Some teachers may fear they could be docked a day of work for the one-day walkout, but the state’s school funding situation is so dire that teachers need to take dramatic action, Sharkey said.

“We’ve done plenty of demonstrations on weekends or after school,” Sharkey said. “This is something more urgent.”