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What’s next in the wake of Chicago Teachers Union strike vote

Chicago Teachers Union rallied and marched in downtown Chicago on April 1. | File Photo

Worst-case scenario, Chicago’s public school teachers walk off the job on Oct. 11 — the day after Columbus Day.

But a teachers’ strike is far from a done deal.

Most members of the Chicago Teachers Union — 90.6 percent to be exact — participated in a strike poll last week, and the overwhelming majority of them, 95.6 percent, gave the CTU their OK to strike by signing a petition their colleagues could see.

The math works out to about 86 percent of members who were eligible to vote thinking the union should walk out. That’s about two percentage points lower than the last time the union surveyed its members in December, when the union used secret ballots to poll members.

The most recent vote was intended to shut down the Chicago Board of Education’s legal challenge to the December vote, which the board contends happened too early in the negotiating process.

Though support for a strike was slightly lower this time around, more than enough teachers met the state’s requirement that 75 percent of union members support a strike.

The CTU didn’t release specific vote totals Monday and didn’t respond to requests for those details.

The strike authorization vote “should come as no surprise to the Board, the mayor or parents because educators have been angry about the school-based cuts that have hurt special education students, reduced librarians, counselors, social workers and teachers’ aides, and eliminated thousands of teaching positions,” union spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said in a press release.

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Counting a one-day teacher walkout last April that state authorities deemed illegal, she said the city could see a “third work stoppage by the city’s public school educators since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office in 2011.”

The teachers have not said for certain whether they will strike but their leadership has called a special meeting Wednesday night at which the governing House of Delegates will discuss just one topic, vice president Jesse Sharkey has said: The union’s next step in securing a new contract.

That could include giving the state and the Board of Education a required 10 days notice — or setting a deadline that would trigger that notice. Setting a strike date needs the approval of the delegates.

So if delegates opt Wednesday night to notify the state, Oct. 11 is the first time students are in classes after the notice period ends.

In 2012, when teachers walked picket lines for seven school days for the first time in a generation, the delegates called the same kind of meeting and voted to set a deadline for bargaining that triggered a 10-day notification if no contract resulted.

Best-case scenario: The bargaining picks up again, and a deal is reached soon. Talks are said to be intensifying this week, with the union and board scheduled to meet three days to hash out details.

“A strike is a very serious step that affects the lives of thousands of parents and children, and we hope that before taking the final steps toward a strike, the CTU’s leadership works hard at the bargaining table to reach a fair deal,” CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a statement, perhaps in a jab at a slowdown in contract talks over the summer.

Both sides remain far apart on economics. CTU wants to keep the 7 percent pension contribution that CPS agreed years ago to pay on teachers’ behalf.

Salary increases have not been settled, either. The school board argues that all CTU members will see a raise by the end of its four-year proposed deal, but the union says about 4,000 veteran teachers miss out on raises in the proposed contract’s middle two years.