Chicago teachers authorize strike but any walkout months off

CHICAGO (AP) -- Chicago Teachers Union members overwhelmingly voted to authorize their leaders to call a strike, although a final decision on a walkout would be months away, the union said Monday.

The vote's results, while not a surprise, give union leaders added leverage in negotiations with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration over a new contract. The union said tallies showed 88 percent of eligible members who voted marked yes to authorize union leaders to call a strike.

Negotiations and a possible strike are among a number of challenges facing Emanuel in his second term, including a Justice Department investigation of the Chicago Police Department after a video was released showing a white officer fatally shooting a black teenager 16 times. The mayor also needs help from state lawmakers to fix a budget crisis at Chicago public schools. His administration has said that without relief, officials could be forced to lay off hundreds of teachers.

In a statement, CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey asked Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool to "listen to what teachers and educators are trying to tell you" and stop any possible cuts or layoffs. The voting took place over three days from Dec. 9 to 11. State law says 75 percent of membership must approve strike authorization. Union officials have said March is likely the earliest teachers could walk off the job.

Claypool asked teachers to join CPS in its fight for more funding from lawmakers in Springfield and said CPS would continue to negotiate with the union in good faith.

"A strike that threatens to set back our students' progress is simply not the answer to our challenges," Claypool said.

Negotiations must also move through a lengthy so-called "fact-finding" process where a panel including representatives from the union and Chicago Public Schools make final offers on contested issues. A month after that process, the union could strike.

CTU's contract expired over the summer. Both sides are getting help from a mediator, though talks haven't progressed.

Chicago teachers went on strike in 2012.

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