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As Strike Vote Nears, Tensions Between Chicago Teachers And School District Grow

The teachers union accuses CPS of peddling in “misleading half-truths” while CPS says CTU isn’t bringing a sense of urgency to negotiations.

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Andrew Gill

The Chicago Teachers Union is calling a letter from the chief contract negotiator for the school district in which he pressures them to make a deal by Sept. 27 a “noxious combination of self-serving rhetoric and misleading half-truths.”

It’s the latest sign that tensions between the two sides are ramping up as the date of a possible teachers strike approaches. Next week, union members are set to vote on authorizing a strike. If that passes, the union leadership will then set a strike date.

The union leadership has said the earliest it will strike is Oct. 8, but they would likely wait until Oct. 17 to coincide with a possible walkout by SEIU Local 73, which represents 7,000 security guards, bus aides and custodians. A provision in state law requires SEIU Local 73 to wait until Oct. 17.

Having both teachers and other workers strike at the same time would be especially bad for the school district. During the last teachers strike in 2012, other workers were in schools watching children.

The prospect of the two strikes at once might be one more reason why the school district wants to settle soon with the CTU.

Last week, attorney Jim Franczek, who is leading the negotiations team, sent a letter urging the union to get a deal done by a week from Friday. He accused the union of failing to approach negotiations with the “same degree of urgency as is CPS.”

He especially wants a response to the school district’s latest wages and benefits proposal. That package offers a 16% raise over five years and increases the health care contribution by union members by 1%.

But in a letter to Mayor Lori Lightfoot sent late Monday, CTU President Jesse Sharkey balked at the request for the response. The CTU wants 15% over three years. But Sharkey notes the union will not agree to a pay package until it reaches agreement on other issues. “Anyone with a passing knowledge of negotiations knows there is a reason pay is the last issue to settle,” Sharkey wrote.

This is a critical issue for the Chicago Teachers Union. A state law prohibits the union from striking over issues other than compensation. So the union must keep compensation as an outstanding issue.

The union and Sharkey have accused the school district of failing to provide concrete offers on many of their non-compensation demands. One of the rallying cries from the union is “put it in writing.”

In his letter, Franczek argues that the school district has put some proposals on the table. But Sharkey calls them either “anemic: or charges that the school district is trying to roll back wins from other contracts.

Also, it appears the two sides are still apart on the big issue of staffing. From the outset of negotiations, the union has insisted that the school district promise in the contract to increase the number of nurses, librarians and social workers.

Apparently, the union put a revised proposal forward earlier this month that Franczek says would result in more than 4,000 new hires. He writes that it is “not credible and certainly not deserving of a considered response.”

But Sharkey indicates in his letter that the CTU proposal was not about the numbers of staff to be be hired, but rather about hiring goals, promises to create a staffing pipeline and a mechanism to enforce such an agreement. He asks where CPS stands on these matters.

Members of SEIU Local 73 took another step toward a walkout when they formally rejected recommendations on Monday from an outside party called a factfinder. They already have overwhelmingly authorized a strike.

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.

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