Lightfoot Says Outside Party Is Siding With City In Teacher Contract Talks

Chicago public schools window
Andrew Gill / WBEZ
Chicago public schools window
Andrew Gill / WBEZ

Lightfoot Says Outside Party Is Siding With City In Teacher Contract Talks

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot let it slip on Thursday that an outside party called a “factfinder” had issued recommendations for a fair contract between the school district and the Chicago Teachers Union.

She said the factfinder, attorney Steven Bierig, had mostly sided with what the city was proposing to the union. Bierig is an arbitrator and mediator specializing in labor and employment disputes.

“It recognizes and respects the offers that we put on the table,” she said of the recommendations.

Lightfoot also repeated that there is no reason a contract deal can’t be reached and that she has directed her team to make it happen.

The union is bashing Bierig’s recommendations in a letter to its members, although CTU President Jesse Sharkey said earlier this week that there was some progress being made in negotiations.

Bierig’s recommendations are not binding and the city or CTU can reject them. Fact finding is a mandated step before a strike.

WBEZ has learned that Bierig is recommending a five-year contract that would give staff raises of 3% in the first three years and 3.5% in the last two years. That is slightly more than what Lightfoot and her team had offered.

Bierig also recommends that the school district not increase health care costs as much as it wants to.

But Bierig’s recommendations are far less than what the union is demanding. It wants 5 percent each year in a three-year contract. It also doesn’t want any increases in health care costs.

The union also is disappointed that Bierig did not issue any recommendations on other disputed issues. They include everything from class sizes to staffing ratios to whether clinicians should be promised a separate space to work with children.

Bierig agreed with the school district that these issues should be hashed out in negotiations or they are items that the school district is not compelled to bargain over.

In Sharkey’s letter to members, he writes: “Let me be blunt. CPS’ factfinder agrees with the mayor’s bargaining team: throw an inadequate wage proposal at educators and literally ignore everything else needed in our school communities to provide our students with a quality education.”

Bierig’s report was given to the parties early. It was not supposed to be handed over until August 11. The parties are supposed to keep it private for 14 days.

The union must wait 30 days after the public release of Bierig’s report before it can strike, making September 26 the earliest a strike could happen.

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her @sskedreporter