Chicago teachers' union votes to authorize strike

By Timothy Mclaughlin

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) said on Monday that its members voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, setting the stage for a potential work stoppage as soon as mid-October.

The CTU, which represents nearly 27,000 teachers and educational support workers in the country's third largest public school system, said in a statement that 95.6 percent of votes cast were in favor of a strike, with just over 90 percent of teachers voting.

"This should come as no surprise to (the Chicago Board of Education), 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," the union said in a statement.

The CTU's governing body will vote on Wednesday on whether to issue a 10-day strike notice to the Board of Education. If the CTU were to move forward, the first possible date for the strike would be Tuesday, Oct. 11.

The union's last contract expired in July 2015 and its bargaining unit unanimously rejected a contract offer from the financially struggling district in February.

"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 leadership works hard at the bargaining table to reach a fair deal," Emily Bittner, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) said in a statement.

Speaking in Springfield, the state capital, Republican Governor Bruce Rauner - a frequent critic of both CPS and CTU - said on Monday that a strike would be a "tragedy."

A strike would be the city's third since 2012. A seven-day strike in 2012 was the district's first in 25 years and a one-day strike in early April of this year affected some 400,000 students.

The prospects for additional teacher layoffs grew on Monday, when the CPS that it had experienced "steeper than expected enrollment drops," with preliminary enrollment showing a decline of around 13,800 students this year.

CPS estimated that this drop could lead to approximately 300 job cuts, including both teachers and support staff.

The district said that it will release $5.7 million to help blunt the impact for some schools experiencing enrollment declines.

(Additional reporting by Karen Pierog, editing by G Crosse)