Sister union’s vote could affect leverage of teachers

June 8, 2012

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As the Chicago Teachers Union tallies a vote that could lead to a strike, some balloting Saturday by the school district’s second-largest union could affect the teachers’ bargaining strength.

Service Employees International Union Local 73 is holding a ratification vote on a tentative contract covering 5,500 Chicago Public Schools employees ranging from bus aides and special-education assistants to custodians and child-welfare attendants.

Local 73 Vice President Taalib-Din Ziyad and other union leaders are urging members to approve the deal because the district has privatized a lot of the work once done by the union’s members.

“We were able to save those jobs that were threatened as well as get language that there would be no further contracting out of any of our jobs,” Ziyad said.

Local 73 and CPS said they would not release a copy of the agreement until after the ratification vote. Union leaders say the deal covers three years and sets up 2 percent annual raises.

The tentative pact follows a CPS contract settlement with Unite Here Local 1 announced last month. That agreement, a five-year deal, covers about 3,200 lunchroom workers and limits the district’s switch to “warming kitchens” in which private venders provide preprepared food.

It’s not clear whether the two settlements leave the CTU’s 25,000 members out on a limb or increase their leverage. The teachers are finishing a vote on whether to authorize union leaders to call a strike. That vote, which began Wednesday, comes amid tough contract talks involving everything from pay to the school-day length.

Orlando Sepúlveda, a Local 73 member campaigning against ratification, calls the tentative agreement “a hollow victory” and says his union could have done better by waiting for the teachers to get a deal.

“The defense of public education — meaning not only halting privatization, but also the improvement of all its constituent elements — will require the unity of all the community that it serves and all the workers involved in it,” Sepúlveda wrote in a Web commentary.

The settlements could affect the CTU’s negotiations, according to leaders of that union.

“The members of both Unite Here and SEIU are hourly workers so they’re not a good precedent for salaried teachers,” CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said. “But one thing that could set a precedent for us is the job-security language that those unions won.”

The CTU has lost thousands of members in recent years, partly as a result of the district’s approval of nonunion charter schools.