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updated: 8/29/2012 7:25 PM

Chicago teachers give strike notice as negotiations falter

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Associated Press

The Chicago Teachers Union issued a 10-day strike notice Wednesday, saying teachers in the nation's third-largest school district are ready to walk off the job for the first time in 25 years.

Negotiations between the union and the Chicago Board of Education are hung up on issues such as job security and pay raises based on experience or advanced degrees, said union President Karen Lewis. The notice means the soonest teachers could strike is Sept. 10, but it doesn't mean a strike will definitely happen. The union could choose to keep negotiating.

Lewis said union leaders would meet this week to possibly set a strike date. She said the notification was made because it is required by law.

"This is a difficult decision for all of us to make," Lewis said. "But this is the only way to get the board's attention and show them we are serious about getting a fair contract which will give our students the resources they deserve."

Some of the district's 400,000 students have already started school; the rest begin Tuesday.

The last Chicago teachers strike was in 1987 and lasted 19 days.

Lewis claims the public schools administration is determined to have a toxic relationship with its employees, accusing them of preferring to shut down school rather than giving them the resources they need. She said the two sides will negotiate through the weekend.

The school district has offered teachers a four-year contract with raises of 2 percent a year, which school board spokeswoman Becky Carroll said would cost $160 million. Lewis has repeatedly said the raise offered by the board is not acceptable.

The district also wants the union to agree to a joint committee to come up with a new system to pay teachers, other than automatic raises based on seniority. The district said that doesn't mean pay raises would be based only on merit.

"It could take a lot of forms; we have not even talked about it," Carroll said.

The board last week authorized spending $25 million in the event of a strike, which Carroll said would help ensure the tens of thousands of students who rely on the schools for two meals a day are fed and have a safe place during the day.

Much of the teachers' frustration has centered on Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who rescinded a 4 percent raise last year and then tried to go around the union in his push for a longer school day by asking teachers at individual schools to waive the union contract to work more hours. The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board subsequently blocked Emanuel's negotiations with schools.

He still was able to lengthen the school day for children to seven hours, starting this fall, without the union's approval. The board of education agreed to hire almost 500 new teachers so current teachers won't have to work longer hours.

But class size, pay and job security remain top concerns for teachers, the union said.

"We will have a contract, and it will come the easy way or the hard way," Lewis said. "If our members are on the picket line, we will still be at the negotiating table trying to hammer out an equitable agreement."

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