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As deadline looms, Chicago rushes to avoid teachers strike

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Faced with a Monday deadline, negotiators plan to meet through the weekend to avoid the first Chicago teachers strike in 25 years.

The Chicago Teachers Union, representing nearly 30,000 public school teachers and staff, have threatened to walk off the job starting at 12:01 a.m. on Monday if a deal is not reached. As many as 400,000 students from 675 schools will be affected.

Teachers and school officials have been locked in contract talks since last year and still disagree on wages, health benefits and job security.

Chicago School Board president David Vitale sat in on contract talks for the first time Thursday and said they are close to reaching a deal.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former White House chief of staff to President Barack Obama, rushed back from the National Democratic Convention to monitor talks. Emanuel said progress was being made to help avoid a strike. "Both parties have been at the table consistently and we're making steady, good progress," Emanuel told NBC Chicago in Charlotte.

View NBCChicago.com's story on looming strike deadline

The Chicago Teachers Union doesn't necessarily agree. The union on Wednesday filed unfair labor practice charges against Chicago Public Schools, accusing the district of canceling some promised longevity pay hikes and sick leave benefits.

"What they are proposing is still the 2 percent cost-of-living raise, but not the raises that we have had in our contract," said Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union.

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“We are tired of being bullied, belittled and betrayed. We have done everything asked of us and we continue to be vilified and treated with disrespect,” she said.

The school district is making plans too. Schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard said 144 schools will remain open for half-day programs from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the event of a strike.

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“If the leadership of the CTU chooses to strike, no one will be hurt more than our students," Brizard said in a statement, "and we are prepared to offer a safety net for families who are not able to access alternative options for their students."

The district plans to rely on non-union employees to take care of students, and though no traditional classroom instruction will be offered, classroom assistants, bus aids and principals will show up Monday to direct other activities, according to district officials.

NBC News' Sevil Omer and NBCChicago.com contributed to this report.

Have an education-related story? Contact NBC News's Sevil Omer at sevil.omer@msnbc.com

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