This timeline tracks the key progress — and setbacks — in contract negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union and the Board of Education, as well as provides historical context. Educators have been working without a contract since July.
On Saturday, April 16, the CTU rejected recommendations from a third-party fact-finder, attorney Steven M. Bierig, who encouraged the union to accept an offer it had already rejected in February. While both sides will continue to meet in negotiation sessions, teachers can now legally go on strike in 30 days — that is, as soon as May 16.
It’s unclear, however, whether the union would strike at the end of the current school year or wait until the beginning of next school year.
Click below to see an interactive timeline of what’s happened so far. Or scroll down to see the timeline, starting with the most recent events first. We’ll continue to update both as contract talks progress.
May 17: CPS tells principals to plan for an average budget cut of 26 percent next year. The potential cuts could result in thousands of teacher layoffs. The CTU has not yet commented publicly.
May 16: Earliest possible date the union can legally strike.
May 4: The CTU announces it is unlikely a strike will happen before the end of school, although a fall strike is still possible. Instead, the union said it would focus its efforts on getting more funding from Springfield.
April 27: CPS CEO Forrest Claypool announces at a Board of Education meeting that elementary and high school graduations will happen but finals may be cancelled should the CTU strike at the end of the school year.
April 21: The Illinois Education Labor Relations Board rules 4 to 1 in favor of CPS’ complaint about the CTU’s April 1 walkout, preventing the CTU from future strikes before the fact-finder report is released. The ruling has no impact on the legality of a potential strike in late May.
April 16: Fact-finder Steven Bierig issues his recommendations for a contract settlement, which mirrored an offer made by the district in January. CTU rejects the recommendations that same day, starting the clock for a potential strike as early as May 16. CPS officials say they agree with Bierig’s recommendations and Claypool urges the union to return to the bargaining table.
April 6: The CTU cancels its internal elections for the first time in at least two decades, with no opposition running against CTU President Karen Lewis or any other candidates from the ruling Caucus Of Rank-and-file Educators (CORE). Lewis is granted an automatic third three-year term.
April 1: The CTU and labor allies hold a one-day strike. Demonstrations take place across the city throughout the day, coming together in a massive downtown rally to call attention to the negative impacts of the state’s budget impasse on schools, higher education and public services.
March 25: School is cancelled in the first of three unpaid furlough days CPS has called to cut costs.
March 23: The CTU House of Delegates votes 486 to 124 in favor of holding a one-day strike on April 1, which district officials contend would be illegal. Some teachers are torn about participating and say they’ll cross the picket line — an action district leaders have encouraged.
March 4: Claypool backtracks on a threat to end in April the so-called “pension pickup” — a longstanding agreement in which the district takes on 7 of the 9 percentage points in salary that educators must pay toward their pension costs. Claypool now says the district will wait until fact-finding is over, but the CTU plans to go ahead with a “day of action” on April 1.
March 3: CPS announces three furlough days for all employees to save $30 million. CTU leaders threaten to hold a massive action or possibly strike on April 1 should the district follow through on its earlier threat to eliminate the pension pickup.
Feb. 18: The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board declines to weigh in on the CTU’s unfair labor practices charge involving step-and-lane salary freezes. While the allegation now goes to a separate administrative trial, the district isn’t required to pay salary increases that the union believes its members are owed.
Feb. 17: The CTU organizes school “walk-ins” with students and parents at about 200 schools to protest budget cuts and garner support for their contract demands.
Feb. 2: CPS announces $75 million in new mid-year cuts to school budgets. School leaders are told to avoid laying off teachers and any special education staff. The district announces it will eliminate the pension pickup for employees represented by the CTU in 30 days.
Jan. 28: CTU leaders seem optimistic about the latest CPS offer and plan to submit it to their big bargaining team. The proposal would eliminate the pension pickup and increase health care costs for employees, though the district says it offsets the losses by increasing pay, capping charter school growth and halting economic layoffs over the life of the contract.
Jan. 27: CPS postpones the sale of $875 million in bonds that could help cover the budget deficit. As one analyst told the Sun-Times: “Either there were no buyers or there were no buyers at a price that the city was going to take. Either way, it’s a bad sign for CPS.”
Jan. 22: In another attempt to narrow the district’s $480-million, mid-year budget gap, CPS announces 227 Central Office layoffs. The budget crisis hits the district in the middle of the school year because, last fall, CPS leaders approved a budget that relied on pension relief from Springfield that never materialized.
Jan. 20: Gov. Bruce Rauner and Republican lawmakers float the idea of a state takeover of CPS and the creation of a path to bankruptcy, both of which would require changes in state law. Claypool calls for an overhaul of the state’s school funding formula, calling it “separate but unequal.”
Jan. 14: CTU and CPS begin daily bargaining sessions and agree to begin fact-finding on Feb. 1 if no agreement is reached by then.
Dec. 15, 2015: CPS leaders release details of their latest contract offer, which replaces the pension pickup with phased-in pay increases. Claypool promises no mid-year layoffs and agrees to some non-economic asks, like a reduction in standardized testing.
Nov. 24, 2015: The union formally requests to begin fact-finding. Thousands of CTU members rally in Grant Park.
Nov. 9, 2015: The CTU runs a “mock strike vote’” — 97 percent of members who voted said they would vote to authorize a strike “if needed.” By state law, strike authorization requires approval from 75 percent of CTU members.
Oct. 6, 2015: After hundreds of summer layoffs and the potential for more in the fall, talk of a strike grows louder.
Sept. 2015: The district stops paying “step and lane” salary increases for additional years on the job and additional graduate credits. The CTU will later file an unfair labor charge against CPS with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board.
August 13, 2015: CPS and CTU move into mediation. If an agreement is not reached “after a reasonable period of mediation,” either party can request that negotiations move to the next phase, fact-finding.
August 12, 2015: CPS announces that it will phase out the 7-percent pension pickup for 2,100 Central Office employees and other non-union employees over the next three years. Around this time, Crain’s Chicago Business reports that CPS may attempt to unilaterally eliminate the pension pickup, claiming the benefit sunsetted when the contract expired.
August 10, 2015: CPS releases its 2015-2016 budget, calling for 1,500 layoffs and deep cuts to special education programs. The district’s budget relies on a half-billion dollars in aid from Springfield, which many observers doubt will ever materialize given state lawmakers’ inability to pass their own budget.
August 6, 2015: CPS abruptly pulls back its offer of a one-year contract, which would have retained the pension pickup and capped the growth of charter schools. Instead, CPS proposes a multi-year agreement that would eliminate the pension pickup, which CTU President Karen Lewis said would “force us into a strike.”
July 22, 2015: Claypool, Rahm Emanuel’s chief of staff, is appointed CEO of CPS.
June 30, 2015: The CTU’s contract with CPS expires.
June 25, 2015: The CTU rejects a proposed one-year contract that includes no raises but keeps the 7-percent pension pickup. Union leaders take the district to task for refusing to bargain on “non-economic” issues, such as testing. They say CPS officials threatened to cut 3,000 teachers and aides and asked for $200 million in other budget cuts.
June 24, 2015: The union’s big bargaining team considers an offer of a one-year contract proposal. Insiders say district officials are pushing for it as part of a statewide deal that would give CPS extra time to make a required pension payment.
May 31, 2015: CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett steps down amid a federal corruption investigation over a $20 million contract with the SUPES Academy. Jesse Ruiz, the School Board’s vice president, becomes interim CEO. The turnover further slows negotiations.
May 7, 2015: CTU files an unfair labor practice charge against CPS with the state’s educational labor relations board, claiming the district refused at least three formal requests for mediation “despite the lengthy period of bargaining and lack of agreement on any substantive matters.”
May 5, 2015: Details about the district’s first contract proposal begin to emerge. They include ending the so-called “pension pickup.” CPS officials stress that the district is in a financial crisis. Rejecting the proposal, Lewis says, “CPS is broke on purpose,” a phrase that will become a rallying cry at protests.
April 15, 2015: The CTU demands that contract mediation begin, one of the first legally required steps in negotiations before a CTU strike can occur. However, mediation won’t get underway until August.
April 7, 2015: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel beats CTU-backed Jesus “Chuy” Garcia in a runoff election with about 56 percent of the vote. Union and district officials had been distracted by the mayoral elections, slowing the contract talks.
March 26, 2015: The CTU releases its first set of contract proposals. Demands include salary and benefit increases, lower class sizes and training new teachers through the grassroots Grow Your Own program instead of Teach for America.
Feb. 5, 2015: Municipal elections take place on this day but there is no outright winner among five candidates for mayor. Emanuel and Garcia get the most votes and will go one-on-one in a runoff.
November 2014: Contract negotiations begin, but talks move slowly as both sides focus on the February mayoral election.
October 2014: Lewis is diagnosed with a brain tumor, ending all talk about her possible run for mayor against Emanuel. The union eventually endorses Garcia, a Cook County commissioner.
August 2014: Lewis says she is “seriously considering” running for mayor against Emanuel, who is seeking re-election.
February 2014: Lewis says that it’s unlikely the union will agree to extend the existing contract for a fourth year. Key issues include challenges with the new teacher evaluation system, a lack of resources for the longer school day and a lack of substitute teachers to cover classes.
Sept. 18, 2012: The Chicago Teachers Union votes to suspend its seven-day strike, its first strike in 25 years. The union and district agree to a three-year contract, with an optional fourth year. The new contract ends on June 30, 2015.
June 13, 2011: Then-Gov. Pat Quinn signs Senate Bill 7 into law, which significantly changes how teachers can be hired and fired. A major provision requires 75 percent of CTU members to authorize a strike, even though many members are inactive and have no vote on contract issues. The law also sets up a long series of steps, including fact-finding, that must be taken before a strike can occur.
July 1995: The Chicago School Reform Amendatory Act goes into effect, giving then-Mayor Richard M. Daley more control of the school system. The law also took class size, charter schools, staffing, privatized services and other major issues off the bargaining table.