Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, speaks at a community forum sponsored by Parents 4 Teachers at Luther Memorial Lutheran Church. Credit: Photo by Grace Donnelly

The Chicago Teachers Union is asking for a 3-percent raise – the same amount that educators could have received had the district offered to extend the current contract for another year.

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey told an audience of North Side parents, community members and teachers on Tuesday that the union presented the district its economic demands during negotiations last week. CPS officials have previously said a 3-percent raise would cost an estimated $105 million.

“We’re not seeking big things. We’re seeking a 3-percent raise,” Sharkey said during the union’s community contract forum sponsored by the group Parents 4 Teachers. “But that’s not what they want. What they want is a 7-percent cut.”

Union leaders had previously said they would seek a raise, but it’s the first time the exact amount has been said publicly. CPS officials, who generally decline to speak about contract negotiations, have said the district faces a crippling budget deficit and is seeking help from Springfield to alleviate its pension debt burden.

Last month, CPS officials said they couldn’t afford to offer the union the one-year extension that would have required a 3-percent raise. Instead, the union says the district has proposed to stop “picking up” pension costs for educators, which would effectively equal a 7 percent pay cut for most CTU members.

The existing labor contract expires at the end of June. At the current pace of contract negotiations, Sharkey says it’s unlikely there will be a new contract in place by the time school begins. He says he worries that the district won’t have its finances in order by then or be able to meet payroll. The district, which borrowed two months’ worth of tax revenue from next year in order to close this year’s budget gap, doesn’t have many options left.

“I do not know if they have money to open schools in September,” he said.

Shaping up to be a battle

Sharkey says the district’s negotiating team submitted its first written contract proposals during last Thursday’s bargaining session. He says the district wants to freeze any step-and-lane pay increases and eliminate the appeals process for teacher evaluations.

“We think negotiations are going poorly,” he says. “It’s shaping up to be a battle.”

Many teachers have told Catalyst Chicago they’re leery of another strike, which would be the second in three years.

Sharkey outlined the series of steps that would need to take place before a strike is even a possibility, including formal mediation, arbitration and fact-finding. That puts the possibility of a strike months after school starts – which could make for a cold picket line.

Two weeks ago the union filed a bad-faith bargaining charge against the district and sought formal mediation.

Sarah Chambers, a special education teacher at Saucedo who participated in Tuesday’s contract forum, told the audience contract teams in each school building are reaching out to parents to tell them about the union’s contract demands and build up community support.

“If we don’t get a contract that supports our students and our teachers, we are prepared to go on strike,” Chambers said.

Melissa Sanchez is a reporter for The Chicago Reporter. Email her at and follow her on Twitter at @msanchezMIA.

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