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Teachers who strike Friday will not be disciplined, just unpaid

Chicago Teachers Union Presiden, Karen Lewis at a news conference last week announcing the one-day walk out. File Photo. Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

Teachers who don’t report to work Friday during a “wildcat strike” will not be disciplined beyond losing the day’s pay, a top Chicago Public Schools official said Thursday.

But those who do punch in could face repercussions from their union, which is leading an unprecedented one-day strike seeking more state funding. They could also face scorn from their colleagues.

Many teachers have reported feeling conflicted about the strike, saying its aims are too amorphous, or its tactics premature.

“I also understand that this is a hard decision for many of our teachers and I have a message to those teachers as well,” chief education officer Janice Jackson said Thursday.

“If teachers are not able to come to work we will not seek mass discipline against the rank-and-file teachers,” she said, such as a write-up or a warning resolution.

But she repeated the district’s message that a paycheck awaits anyone who reports to work at their own school or any one of the 107 schools staying open to care for children during the strike CPS regards as illegal.

The Chicago Teachers Union is leading a one-day strike that union officials say is necessary to secure more funding from the state for schools. The picketing and marching that is to include many other labor groups will culminate in a 4 p.m. rally outside the Thompson Center.

The union also contends the action is legal, based on a CPS unfair labor practice of canceling raises that the two sides continue to bargain about in ongoing contract negotiations.

However, its 27,000 members aren’t marching in their usual lockstep.

Though the measure to authorize the strike passed with more than two-thirds of the union’s delegates, the 486-124 vote was hardly unanimous for the powerful union.

Veteran teacher assistant Josephine Fernandez-Rivera will not cross any picket lines and go to work on Friday at Peck Elementary School.

But neither will she don red, pick up signs and join union colleagues at pickets or the downtown rally.

“I’m just saying I don’t agree with this action. I felt like there was no forethought with this whole plan,” said Fernandez-Rivera, a 22-year member of the CTU. She told the Sun-Times that union members voted on April 1 as a “day of action” that wasn’t yet a strike.

“I just feel that a lot of teachers and career service were taken off guard on this,” she said. “We didn’t fully understand what was happening, what would happen.”

She raised her concerns with her school’s delegate and posted on the CTU’s Facebook page, “I am with you. If we are going to a regular strike, I will go.” She said her questions were met with pushback from colleagues but doesn’t believe she’ll be the only Peck staffer skipping the protests.

CPS payroll records will track who reports to work Friday. But it’s hard to know how many teachers and other members of the CTU will just stay home. School delegates will ask picketers to put their names on sign-in sheets.

That’s why at least one South Side High School teacher will turn up outside his school and picket a few hours, as his school’s union delegate and captains have instructed individual staffers. But then he’s heading home too, along with several teacher friends.

“I just think it sends a bad message across the board for the public,” he said of the strike. “We’re trying to squeeze rocks to get blood, and it’s not there. I think we have to take a more realistic look at it and be responsible. Hey, there’s other ways to do this.”

He added, “I don’t think the enthusiasm is there.”

The teacher also said the purpose of the strike was amorphous.

“If you polled the teachers that are out on strike tomorrow, I’d be curious if they’d all be consistent as far as what’s the purpose and the cause,” he said. “It’s supposed to be unfair labor practices, but I would guess none would say that.”

Several more teachers who opposed the strike vote have since told the Sun-Times they’ll join picket lines outside their schools, saying the consequences of staying home weren’t worth it.

CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said there’s no way of counting who does and does not participate in strike activities.

She said top union officers have been visiting schools to talk to members in recent weeks, including CTU President Karen Lewis and Vice President Jesse Sharkey  “and they are telling me they are winning the conversations among teachers who were agnostic. Again, it all stems from the mixed messages union leaders sent and not being clear on whether this was a strike or not. It makes people nervous — and teachers are cautious by nature.

“I don’t think it’s actually fracturing the union. It’s just exposed where some divides exist publicly,” Gadlin continued.

The CTU can punish the members who cross picket lines they call “strike breakers” by fining them the pay they earn while their colleagues are on strike, or by kicking them out of the union temporarily or permanently. Sharkey said recently that it’s too soon to worry about taking action against colleagues given the importance of the strike’s message about fair funding.

Meanwhile, parents can drop their children at more than 100 schools, or dozens of libraries, park district facilities or churches. The full list is available at www.cps.edu/april1 or parents can call 311.

CPS CEO Forrest Claypool on Thursday still would not provide any cost estimates for any of the programs, food or other activities he and the heads of the Park District, Library and CTA briefed Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday afternoon. He could not even say whether the costs would fall below the $10 million CPS has said it would withhold from teachers in salary.

Emanuel said this week he shares the school funding frustrations with the CTU.

But he once again appealed to teachers not to “take it out on” students who belong in the classroom and can’t afford to miss a minute of instruction, let alone an entire day.

In addition to learning, Emanuel noted that school is the “safest place” for kids. It’s also the place where kids from impoverished homes get two “nutritionally complete” meals a day, he said.

“I understand and appreciate that teachers have a challenge with Springfield. Get in line. There’s a lot of people who have a challenge with what’s happening in Springfield. But, do not take it out on our students,” the mayor said.

The mayor was asked what teachers should do instead of staging a one-day walkout that CPS had branded an “illegal” strike.

“That’s for them to discuss among themselves. I’ll join hands with them in trying to get Springfield to change [the school aid formula] as we go,” Emanuel said.

“I share those concerns. The state is near last in funding education K-12 in the country. Our kids of poor means have enough stacked against them. They should not also have the state stacked against them. And school districts like Chicago across the state that have a preponderance of kids at poverty or below are actually not receiving funds from the state at the level [they deserve] given that’s it’s a bigger and harder challenge. Kids from poverty have enough head winds. The state should not be in the business of creating a further gust behind that head wind.”

6:30 a.m. Full day of events begins outside every CPS-run school. CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey will picket at Roosevelt High School, 3436 W. Wilson.

8:30 a.m. CTU President Karen Lewis will picket outside King College Prep High School, where she used to teach, 4445 S. Drexel. Educators will picket at Bogan High School, 3939 W. 79th St.  and will march to  Illinois Department of Rehab Services office at 7600 S. Pulaski to demand the state fund the program.

10 a.m. People to picket the luxury McCormick Place hotel receiving $55 million in TIF money at Cermak and Wabash.

10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Chicago State University students and Black Youth Project 100 members to lead a teach-in on campus at the CSU Rotunda. Noon rally with Lewis and the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. to demand state revenue for public universities

10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Teach-In with AFT president Randi Weingarten at Northeastern University, 5500 N. St. Louis. Funeral march featuring New Orleans-style jazz staged for the death of higher education.

2:45 p.m. Brighton Park Neighborhood Council to lobby Ald. Edward Burke at City Hall to stop charter expansion in the city of Chicago.

3 p.m. Alliance for Human Services protests at Illinois Department of Human Services, 401 S. Clinton, to demand revenue, then march via J.P. Morgan Chase to ask for toxic swap renegotiations, en route to Thompson Center.

4 p.m. Day of Action: Fund Our Futures Rally, followed by protest march until 6:30 p.m.