The Chicago Teachers Union voted Monday night to send the tentative agreement with the school district on reopening for in-person learning to its full membership for ratification.
This could be a major step toward reopening schools, but it’s by no means guaranteed. The union’s elected house of delegates did not endorse what it’s calling the reopening “framework.” It merely passed it on to the membership, with 85% of its delegates voting in favor. Also, some 90 percent of delegates voted “no confidence” in the Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the leadership of Chicago Public Schools.
All 25,000 CTU members can vote on Tuesday by electronic ballot. If it passes, the first group of students and staff are due back in schools on Thursday. Results will be announced on Wednesday.
In a statement late Monday night, the union said “the proposed framework represents the absolute limit to which CPS is willing to go to guarantee a minimum number of guardrails for any semblance of safety in schools. Delegates’ vote of no confidence tonight reflects their disgust that it has taken almost a year of effort just to extract the most basic enforceable safety guarantees from a school district with a dismal record of broken promises.”
The Chicago Teachers Union leadership said they made progress at the bargaining table, but significant issues still remain unresolved. However, they told members they didn’t think the district would offer more concessions without a strike. CTU President Jesse Sharkey has said that a strike would likely be long and could be deemed illegal.
In the agreement that took months to nail down, the school district made some key concessions to the union. Elementary school students won’t be offered in-person learning until March — a month later than the school district wanted. This was important to the union because it gives more time for teachers and staff to be vaccinated before they start.
The union also got the school district to agree to dedicate 1,500 vaccinations per week for staff and to increase the amount if the city’s supply increases. And it negotiated a much more comprehensive COVID-19 testing plan than the school district was originally offering.
But the union pushed for several concessions and came up short. The public health metrics that would determine when schools would halt in- person learning is far less concrete than the union wanted.
Also, the union wanted staff with household members who are medically compromised to be allowed to work from home. The tentative agreement says any CTU staff members can take an unpaid leave of absence if they are required to report to schools and have not been fully vaccinated. Their job and benefits would be protected.
The last tentative agreement passed by CTU’s governing board was approved with 60% of the vote. In that situation, delegates approved the agreement, but said the strike wouldn’t end unless they got paid for the days on the picket line. The next day, the mayor agreed to compensate them for five of the 11 days.
There are similar lingering issues in this deal, though not as far reaching. About 50 teachers and staff required to report to schools in mid-January were locked out of remote classrooms and had their pay withheld when they failed to do so. The school district agreed to reinstate these staff members, but said they will have to file a grievance to get back pay.
Also, about 114 teachers and staff were facing disciplinary action for allegedly trying to convince parents not to bring their children to classrooms. The district agreed to drop 59 cases, but is proceeding with 55. Many union members say it sets a precedent where they have to worry about what they say to parents.