Chicago Teachers Union Sets Stage For Strike In September | WBEZ
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Chicago Teachers Union Rejects Contract Terms; Sets Stage For Strike On Sept. 26

Updated 10:15 a.m.

The Chicago Teachers Union announced Monday morning it is rejecting the contract term recommendations of an outside independent party called a fact finder, kicking off a 30-day cooling off period that must happen before a teachers strike can be called.

Later, the city held a press conference to accept the findings, but when one side rejects the fact finder’s recommendations, they become null. The city's acceptance of the recommendations means the mayor is willing to boost her initial salary and benefit offer.

"Though the wage and benefits will be said to be generous by the mayor and CPS' team, they come in the context of nearly a decade of austerity and cuts for Chicago's teachers and other school staff," CTU President Jesse Sharkey said outside a Near West Side elementary school Monday morning. "We have endured three freezes ... and layoffs and other cuts, including cuts to our benefits, which makes conditions in the Chicago Public Schools, for the people who do the work in those schools, extremely difficult."

The first day teachers and staff could walk out is Sept. 26. But these moves do not signal a strike is guaranteed. Instead, the union is using them to pressure the school district to get a deal done.

Recently, the union has said progress is being made in negotiations. The last contract expired June 30.

The fact finder, Attorney Steven Bierig, suggested a five-year contract with raises of 3%  a year for the first three years and 3.5% in the last two years, totaling 16% over five years.

That is more than Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s first offer of a five-year contract with 2.5% in the first three years and 3% in the final two years. 

The school district also was looking to increase health care contributions for CTU members by 0.5%  in the last three years of the contract, but Bierig suggested 0.25% in the third and fourth year and 0.5% in the last year.

"This would represent the largest and most robust salary and benefit package in CTU history," Lightfoot said Monday morning.

With Lightfoot's decision to match the fact finder’s recommendation, the city is offering a 16% raise over five years with a 1% increase in health care contributions, up from the initial offer of 14% over five years with a 1.5% health care increase. This is on top of raises teachers get for each extra year of experience and additional degrees. Lightfoot's office said with those additional raises, the average teacher will see a total raise of 24% over five years.

A second-year teacher making $53,000 in 2019 would jump to over $72,000 in the last year of this contract offer, Lightfoot and CPS said. 

"As a former CPS teacher, I know how hard our dedicated educators work to ensure the children of Chicago can live up their vast potential," CPS CEO Janice Jackson said in a news release."Our teachers deserve a fair deal that rewards them for their service and the proposal recommendation by our independent fact finder would make that happen."

While the improved salary offer is a good sign, the union wants much more. It is demanding a three-year contract with 5% raises each year.

In addition, the city is resisting many of the other demands from the union.

One of the biggest areas of disagreement is whether the contract will require the school district to hire more social workers, nurses and counselors.

The union it wants specific contract language guaranteeing these clinicians will be brought on and that staff-to-student ratios reduced. Lightfoot has said she wants to bring on these staff — she has promised to hire 250 more nurses, 200 more social workers and more special education case managers over the next five years — but her team has resisted putting this in the contract.

"We are talking about schools that saw $30 to $40 million in cuts to special education alone over the last couple of years," Sharkey said. "So the mayor can put a big number on it by projecting this budget out over the next five or even 10 years, but those numbers don't fool us. We want to see immediate improvements coming in the form of increased spending on critical positions."

The union also wants to reduce class-size maximums and for them to be enforceable. Right now, they are only advisory. The union also wants each school to have a librarian.

The union accuses Lightfoot of shirking promises she made during the campaign to provide more librarians and other clinicians.

Meanwhile, the school district wants to increase the amount of teacher prep time principals control. The union has called this issue a non-starter.

The Chicago Teachers Union presents 20,000 teachers and clinicians, such as nurses and social workers, and 3,000 paraprofessionals, such as school clerks and teacher aides.

Another union, SEIU Local 73, represents other staff, including teacher aides, security guards and bus workers. SEIU Local 73 is also in negotiations, and its members have already overwhelmingly approved a strike. The earliest it could call a strike is October.

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

An early version of this story incorrectly stated the date of a strike authorization vote. There is a no strike authorization vote scheduled.

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