Deadline Deal: Teachers Strike Avoided With Late-Night Agreement

Deadline Deal: Teachers Strike Avoided With Late-Night Agreement

WBEZ brings you fact-based news and information. Sign up for our newsletters to stay up to date on the stories that matter.

Chicago teachers will not be on the picket lines Tuesday.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis announced the “tentative deal” just minutes before the union’s midnight deadline. The decision averts the second major strike for Chicago teachers since 2012. The district’s nearly 400,000 students will be in class Tuesday. Watch below.

Lewis said the union received the offer about 8 p.m. Monday, but needed to review it “line by line.”

The union unveiled more details of the proposed four-year deal on its website early Tuesday. It shows that the district will agree to continue its practice of picking up 7 of the 9 percent employee pension contribution for all current employees, but they will end the practice for all new hires. The tentative agreement also includes raises over the next two school years and so-called “step and lane” raises that are based on education and experience.

“We are very pleased … It’s not a perfect agreement, as anyone will tell you,” Lewis said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool released a joint statement about two hours before the deal was announced.

“Tonight, we are committed to remaining at the negotiating table as long as it takes to reach an agreement — to give teachers raises, to secure their pensions, to invest in our schools, and — most importantly — to ensure our children are in school where they belong,” the statement said.

Last month, teachers voted to authorize a strike. The district had previously challenged a secret ballot vote taken in December.

The deal comes after nearly two years of negotiations. Teachers had worked without a contract for nearly 16 months. 

The two sides had long disagreed on whether the offer on the table from the Board would mean more or less money for teachers, who have a median salary of about $78,000

On Friday, union leaders said they would not accept a contract that resulted in less take-home pay for teachers. They also asked for an additional $500 per student at every school. The increase would amount to about $200 million, about the same amount the union and its allies in the Chicago City Council have said could be released from the coffers of various special taxing districts know as TIFs. 

As the two sides met over the course of last school year, Chicago Public Schools seemed to be on the edge of financial collapse. 

The district started the year with a budget that relied on an additional $480 million from the state. That money never came, and district chief Forrest Claypool had to cut school budgets at the start of second semester. 

In February, the two sides came close to a deal, but when CTU leadership brought the tentative agreement back to a 40-member “big bargaining team” it was rejected. Shortly after, CPS borrowed $725 million at a punishingly high interest rate. Some observers questioned whether the district soon would no longer have access to the bond markets. 

By April, the two sides sent their best offers to independent mediator Steven Bierig. At the time, the union wanted a two-year deal and the board hoped for a four-year agreement. The union swiftly rejected Bierig’s recommendations

One of the key sticking points had been how much teachers were asked to contribute to their health care costs and retirement. The district would like to phase out its practice of picking up 7 percent of the 9 percent employee contribution to the pension fund. The union had not outright rejected the idea, but had said it will not accept a contract that reduces a teacher’s take-home pay. 

In July, the Board of Education passed a budget that assumed teachers would agree to phase out the “pension pickup.” The budget also reduced the number of teachers in the district by about 700.

At the end of September, district officials said fewer students enrolled than expected. Preliminary numbers indicated there may be as many as 13,000 fewer students in CPS, which will affect budgets because schools are funded based on how many students show up.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Becky Vevea and Sarah Karp are education reporters for WBEZ. Follow them at @wbezeducation.