The Chicago Teachers Union plans to use its upcoming contract negotiations to push for lower class sizes, for a full lineup of staff at every school, including art teachers, librarians, and nurses, and for housing affordability for teachers and the families of students.
CTU President Jesse Sharkey said demands in these areas, as well as proposals concerning bread-and-butter issues, will be presented to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Board of Education on Tuesday. He said the union wants to start negotiating soon.
But Sharkey does not expect a new contract in place by June 30, when the current contract expires. Emanuel is not running for re-election, and the new mayor, who won’t take office until May, will need to sign off on the contract. Negotiations could drag on through the summer and into the fall, as they have in recent years. The CTU went on strike in 2012 for the first time in 25 years and came close to a strike in 2016.
In addition to tackling broader issues, Sharkey said the union is looking to lower health care costs and boost raises for its members, who include about 25,000 teachers, clinicians, and other staff. In the past few negotiations, movement on those issues was limited because the school district was in the midst of budget crises.
“There is no financial crisis this time,” Sharkey told WBEZ Thursday, citing additional revenues CPS has received from the state in recent years while also noting the state’s teacher shortage. “We think that the wind is at our back in these negotiations. We have a lot of morale and optimism that we can win things for our schools and for the people who work in our schools.”
Sharkey acknowledged many of the union’s broader demands are issues the law prohibits the union from striking over. But he said the union can use them as leverage in bargaining.
The current CTU leadership has brought social issues into negotiations in the past, but housing affordability is a new demand. He said CPS in the past has offered programs to help teachers afford to buy homes.
“There are a lot of neighborhoods in the city where someone on a teacher’s salary has a hard time finding a place to live,” Sharkey said. “This connects to black and Latino working class families as well. There are a lot of neighborhood where no one can afford to live.”
Class size and the need for a full lineup of staff and supports in schools came up in previous contract fights, but the school district hasn’t budged much on them. That is because hiring more personnel is expensive.
Most of the mayoral candidates contacted by WBEZ did not immediately weigh in with their approach on contract talks with teachers.
But State Comptroller Susana Mendoza said she wants to see teachers “fairly compensated for the essential work they do.” She also criticized Emanuel for rescinding a pay raise for teachers soon after he took office eight years ago.
"As the mother of a kindergartener in a neighborhood public school, I have skin in the game ensuring our teachers are empowered to prepare students for successful futures,” she said in a statement. “I look forward to negotiating in good faith with the Chicago Teachers Union to improve our neighborhood schools and guarantee every child in Chicago gets a quality, public education."
Gery Chico’s spokeswoman Kelley Quinn pointed out that Chico has a “great record” negotiating contracts, including two with the teachers union while he served as president of the Chicago Board of Education. “He looks forward to sitting down with them in the future as the next mayor of Chicago.”
The CTU has endorsed Toni Preckwinkle.