Terminating the contract is a risky proposition for the union and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. It would open up the possibility of a strike. It would also allow for CPS leaders to insist that the school day be extended.
This might be what Emanuel and CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard wants. One of Emanuel’s main campaign pledges was that he would extend the school day and the state legislature gave him the power to unilaterally do so this past Spring. However, the current teacher union contract spells out the number of hours teachers are being paid to work and Emanuel would need to alter that.
CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said that, because union negotiators have broached issues other than the raise, broader issues, such as extending the school day, can be a part of current discussions, even without the contract being terminated.
“We look forward to continuing this discussion with them,” she said.
District officials are not surprised that the teachers union is ready to vote on terminating the contract, Carroll said. The union could not come up with a way to pay for the raises and has realized that the district really is in dire financial straits, she said.
She said the union must give the district a month’s notice that they want to terminate the contract.
Though CTU President Karen Lewis has said the possibility of a strike is high, a strike would be a long way off. Under changes to state law, CPS and the union would be required to spend months in a lengthy process of mediation and fact-finding, and if they still don’t come to an agreement, a strike would not occur unless 75 percent of all the union’s members voted in favor.
“The union has to talk to its delegates and weigh our various options,” says Jesse Sharkey, CTU vice president.
Sharkey said that during negotiations Monday night CPS negotiators said they would not be open to any raises, rejecting an offer to take 2 percent, rather than the 4 percent in the original contract.
“Basically, we got told, ‘There’s no number between 0 and 4 percent which we’ll consider; we’re not interested in offering you a smaller raise in exchange for anything,’” Sharkey says. “And so then, there isn’t really a whole lot to talk about any more.”
The union contends that CPS could find money to pay teachers by asking Emanuel to declare a tax-increment financing district surplus, giving tax money that had been set aside for economic development back to the schools.
The CTU proposal, which the district rejected, asked for:
- A smaller cost-of-living raise that was spread out over the school year, with a 2 percent raise effective this past July 1 and another 2 percent raise effective January 1, 2012. The union says this reflects the pace of inflation in the Consumer Price Index.
- A recall policy allowing teachers who were laid off in summer 2010, prompting lengthy litigation by the union, to get their jobs back before new teachers are hired.
- Increased grievance and arbitration rights for teachers who are disciplined by principals but do not face dismissal, removal or suspension.
- A halt to cuts to CPS educational programs, “unless equivalent reductions are imposed upon CPS charter schools.”
- The district to stop doing business with five banks, unless they agree to offer special loan modifications to Chicago residents facing foreclosure.
Sharkey says the union brought up the bank issue because it directly affects student performance.
“There are very few issues that affect a school the way housing in the neighborhood affects a school,” he says. “We just felt it was fair… we think they should use their political power to make some demands on the banks that hold the mortgages.”