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"We're Dying The Death Of A Thousand Cuts," Says CTU Ahead Of April 1 Walkout

By aaroncynic in News on Mar 24, 2016 1:25AM

Scott Olson/Getty Images

The Chicago Teacher’s Union voted Wednesday to stage a one-day walkout on April 1—a move they hope will bring more attention to their contract fight as well as a lack of funding for resources in Chicago Public Schools.

“We are dying the death of a thousand cuts,” said CTU President Karen Lewis.

Union reps said the move was almost certain earlier this month when Chicago Public Schools announced that its employees would be forced to take three unpaid furlough days before the end of the school year. The forced furlough days came after the District announced 62 layoffs, along with $120 million in cuts to its central office and school budgets.

“This house is ready and united,” Lewis told reporters at a press conference after the union's House of Delegates voted in favor of the measure.

Earlier this week, the union asked CPS to reschedule one of the furlough days scheduled in June to accommodate the April 1 walkout. According to the Tribune, a spokesperson for CPS said it wouldn’t consider the trade, and said it carefully chose the days that “minimized disruptions to student class time and learning.”

When pressed as to why it didn’t schedule the action for this Friday, one of the furlough days, CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said it was partially because many of its members would be observing Good Friday, and that the union is trying to show commitment to its cause.

"Making a strike on what would be a day of work shows a higher degree of commitment and urgency," said Sharkey, "and we think we have to send that message to the public about how critical the budget crisis has become."

The union says that both Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner are ignoring millions of dollars in “viable revenue options,” which include a financial transaction tax, a statewide graduated income tax, using TIF surplus money, and suing banks over bad interest rate deals known as “toxic swaps,” which have cost the city millions of dollars.

CTU President Karen Lewis and Vice President Jesse Sharkey at a press conference on March 23, 2016. (Photo by Aaron Cynic/Chicagoist)

Lewis also railed against Governor Rauner and the state budget impasse. Rauner has been pushing legislation for a state takeover of CPS, a move the union, Emanuel and other education advocates have decried. “We need funding from Springfield," said Lewis. “We need Governor Rauner to get off his anti-union turnaround agenda and get a budget done.”

Johnae Strong, a CTU member, CPS mother and co-chair of the group Black Youth Project 100 recalled the effects the largest public school closing in history had on communities of color on the South and West sides, and the continuing effects of a lack of funding.

"We are living in the trauma of the first school closings that happened," Strong said. "We are bearing witness to the things that are happening because of the destablization of communities. It is time for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Rauner to be held accountable and put their money where the communities need it."

“We are saying that Laquan McDonald and Rekia Boyd happen well before their lives are lost,” she added. “The City of Chicago is hurting and bleeding from more than bullets, but the lack of services: mental health, public education, teachers who look like and understand [students].”

The District criticized the decision in a statement, NBC5 reports, saying “instead of focusing on reaching an agreement, it is disappointing to see the CTU’s leadership promoting a strike that would potentially take a critical day of instruction away from our students.”

The CTU and CPS have been at odds over a contract since the last one expired in June. CPS also argues that the one-day walkout on April 1 is illegal, since the fact-finding process, a step which needs to conclude before a strike occurs. Lewis, however, told reporters that the situation was “new territory.” “They have their lawyers, we have ours," she said. "We’re saying it’s not illegal.”