CTU president Karen Lewis calls potential pension payment increase 'strike-worthy'
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis is sounding the alarm: Ongoing contract negotiations with Chicago Public Schools, and says the notion that teachers should pay more into Chicago’s severely underfunded teachers pension fund is “strike-worthy.”
Union representatives told reporters Friday that public school teachers would likely start the school year without a contract. Their latest contract expired on June 30th, and CTU and the school district began negotiating a new one last November.
But now, Lewis says CPS is withdrawing its proposal for a one-year collective bargaining agreement, which in her words “resets the clock” on those discussions.
“They could have been the heroes in this. But instead, Sheriff Claypool has decided just blow things up and show us just how tough he can be,” Lewis said, referring to the newly-appointed CPS CEO Forrest Claypool.
Both Claypool and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have said teachers should pay more into the severely underfunded Chicago Teachers Pension Fund. As part of the mayor’s so-called “grand bargain” regarding the pension crisis, Emanuel wants teachers to pay the full 9 percent cost of pensions, rather than the 2 percent they currently contribute. On Friday, Lewis said she considers that proposal “strike worthy.”
“Whether or not a flip-flop or breach of trust will lead to a work stoppage this school year will be decided by our members at the appropriate time,” she said. Technically, there are a few legal and bureaucratic hoops the union would have to jump through in order to officially walk out of the classroom; so if they did vote to strike, union members suggested that likely wouldn’t happen until winter.
In a statement, a CPS spokesperson said that the district “remains dedicated to reaching a multi-year agreement with our teachers” and, “will continue to negotiate in good faith at the bargaining table to reach an agreement on a broader and longer contract that is beneficial for our children, their teachers, the taxpayers and the entire system.”
The two sides are expected to meet again next week.
Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ politics reporter. Follow her @laurenchooljian.