CHICAGO — Thirty-two thousand members of the Chicago Teachers Union are prepared to go on strike, if they have to, before school starts here on Sept. 4.

Hundreds of teachers met at Plumber’s Hall to discuss contract negotiations with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). The union’s contract expired earlier this year.

“Anything is possible,” said CTU President Marilyn Stewart to the press after the meeting on Aug. 9. “A strike is not our first option,” she said, but added that the union was not afraid to use it. Our members “deserve respect.”

Stewart took issue with a recent news article calling on the CTU “to step up to the plate” and make an agreement.

“We gave our goals to the district over a year ago,” she pointed out. “They have been dragging their feet.”

Stewart said the union and the board have tentatively agreed to some things, but issues like wages, health care and job security remain in question.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has called for year-long schooling and longer school days.

Stewart said if teachers and students are in class during the summer heat, they will need air conditioning.

The occupants of City Hall should cut off their air conditioning to see what it’s like, she said.

Stewart was asked about the working families who will have to find someone to watch their children while at work during a strike.

“Our members are these families,” she replied.

At one point during the press briefing, CTU members stood up and chanted, “We want a contract! We want a contract!”

“It’s been very frustrating and outrageous to see what these teachers go through,” said Stewart.

“CPS is a $5 billion industry,” said Stewart. “They have the money in their budget to fund our contract.

“We can make this system the best in the nation, and you don’t have to privatize to do it,” she said, referring to the city’s Renaissance 2010 plans to expand charter and private contract schools.

Part of the problem, observers add, is the deadlock in Springfield, Ill., over the state budget. School districts do not know how much money they will be getting this year.

The union will meet again on Aug. 22. CTU members hope by then the two sides will have made an agreement.