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CTU strike vote not private this time

Chicago Teacher's Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey speaks to reporters in June 2016. On Wednesday Sharkey said Sharkey said the petition format — proposed by a rules committee made up of rank-and-file members and approved by the governing House of Delegates — didn't intend to pressure anyone. | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times

As Chicago’s public school teachers tell their union again this week whether or not they would still approve a strike, as they did in December, they’re not making that choice in private.

Union members are being asked to sign their names on a sheet of paper, next to their pre-printed name; check yes or no on whether they would authorize a possible strike later this fall; and initial that check mark, according to Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey.

The process — conducted in some school hallways where passersby also could see — is in stark contrast to the secret ballots used in December and in 2012. That means that anyone voting can see what their colleagues already decided, staffers told the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday morning, the first of three days of voting.

Sharkey said the petition format — proposed by a rules committee made up of rank-and-file members and approved by the governing House of Delegates — didn’t intend to pressure anyone. “In the union tradition [a strike vote] wasn’t something that was kept secret from other members of the union, it was something we talked about as members of our group,” he said.

This method was considerably less expensive than the secret ballot method used in the winter that cost about $250,000 because it relied on sending couriers twice-daily to all the voting sites. And he pointed to past strike votes when the union members would all meet in person in a hotel ballroom and stand to indicate a yes or no.

Union members are taking a second strike vote to cover their legal bases. Nearly 90 percent of all voting members voted in December to authorize a possible strike, but Chicago Public Schools has contested the timing of that vote. State law requires a 75 percent threshold, but it doesn’t lay out how that vote must be conducted.

CTU president Karen Lewis has said her members don’t want to strike, but they won’t work another year without a contract to replace the one that expired in June 2015.

The Board of Education and union representatives continued bargaining Wednesday, which Sharkey described as “a good session today.”

The frequency of meetings, which tapered over the summer, will increase next week, with sessions scheduled to happen nearly every day, he said.

No strike date has been set. That task falls to the House of Delegates, which is next scheduled to meet on Oct. 5. The union also must notify a state board 10 days before walking out, and they have yet to do that.