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CTU won’t strike on May 1 but might if CPS imposes more furloughs

Karen Lewis, the Chicago Teachers Union president. | Maria Cardona / Sun-Times

Lacking support from a membership already irked about losing four days’ pay to imposed furloughs, the Chicago Teachers Union nixed a one-day strike, but left the door open to walk out again if school leaders cut any more work days.

Last month, the union floated the idea of a May 1 strike to protest declining financial conditions at Chicago Public Schools while freeing members on International Labor Day to join planned marches for workers’ and immigrants’ rights.

But the resolution proffered instead, approved by hundreds of delegates, eliminated the word “strike.” Some teachers and other union members apparently were loath to hand CPS a fifth furlough day, though union officials said others wanted more than a single day’s walkout.

But if CPS imposes more furloughs, for example, by following through on a threat to cut up to 13 days off the end of this school year, the delegates voted to call an emergency meeting to decide how to proceed, including threatening another strike.

“There’s nothing off the table,” CTU president Karen Lewis said.

Delegates also demanded that CPS reverse the furloughs, the next of which is Friday, and come up with new revenue to fully fund schools.

“What we have learned for the past month of listening to our members through school visits, workshops and trainings is that they are frustrated and outraged that the Mayor and his hand-picked Board of Education have chosen to take the skin off our backs to alleviate a budget crisis that their leadership has created,” Lewis said. “Both the mayor and the Illinois governor have the power to stop budget cuts and to keep school doors open with the strike of a pen but instead they do nothing but pointlessly bicker and leave us all in limbo under the looming threat of ending the school year early.”

CPS officials, who still haven’t decided whether a threat to lop as much as three weeks off the school year will materialize, urged against any strike and filed a complaint with a state board that declared last year’s one-day April CTU strike illegal.

The district still is searching for $129 million. When the Board of Education passed its budget, it counted on $215 million from the state that Gov. Bruce Rauner hinged on “pension reform.”

In December, Rauner vetoed the legislation containing that money, saying that the conditions hadn’t been met. Meanwhile district leaders have chipped at the gap with furloughs and cuts, and filed a civil rights lawsuit against Rauner that’s a longshot to promptly deliver more funding for the city’s minority students.

“We hope that all Chicagoans can stand united against the racially discriminatory funding system that Governor Rauner is perpetuating against Chicago students,” CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner wrote. “This separate and unequal system is at the root of CPS’ funding challenges.”