Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool says that for now the district will continue paying teachers’ so-called “pension pickup” — despite earlier moves to end the decades-old labor agreement.

The district decided to wait to eliminate the pension pickup until after the fact-finding stage of labor negotiations has played out, Claypool said.

This major about-face comes on the heels of the Chicago Teachers Union issuing its own threat: to go on strike April 1 in protest of what it considers a violation of labor law.

Under the pickup, granted decades ago in lieu of a salary hike, the district pays 7 percent of the 9 percent of salary that teachers are required to put into their pension funds.

Since an end to pension pickup is still a possibility, the union will go ahead with a planned “day of action” on April 1, CTU President Karen Lewis said at a Friday press conference. That could range from a downtown rally to a strike.

“We’re not taking anything off the table,” Lewis said. “This is an unfair labor practice.”

Claypool insisted that the district maintains a “clear and unequivocal” right to end the pension pickup since the teachers contract has expired. The pickup must be renegotiated with each new labor agreement, unlike other provisions in the contract that continue even after the expiration date, he asserted.

Historically, Claypool said, the union and CTU have bargained over whether to retain the pickup.

“Each time, the union has re-negotiated it back into the contract,” he said Friday during a press conference at Cather Elementary in East Garfield Park. “Each time, the district has insisted that it be sunsetted, explicitly. You won’t find other provisions like that, that’s unique. It doesn’t extend automatically.”

Fact finding, which is one of the last legally required steps before teachers can go on strike over the contract, began on Feb. 1, which was also the day the union’s “big bargaining team” shot down a contract offer from the district.

The fact-finder has 75 days to review both sides’ most recent contract proposals and issue recommendations, which are then made public. That report should be released in mid-April.

At that point, both sides would have up to 15 days to accept or reject the panel’s report. If accepted by both sides, the recommendations would become the new labor contract. If not, the union must wait 30 days before it can strike — putting a potential strike off until May.

Still, the CTU says it can strike immediately over an unfair labor practice.

Threat to stop pension pickup

A month ago, Claypool announced mid-year cuts to school budgets and said the district would stop picking up pension costs within 30 days. That 30-day notice expired this week.

The district estimates the move would save $65 million by the end of this school year.

At the time, Lewis said the union was prepared to file an unfair labor practice charge against the district if it unilaterally eliminated the pension pickup, a provision in the teachers contract that expired last June.

Union attorney Robert Bloch said Friday that in cases of an unfair labor practice, federal labor law permits the union to strike without following the same steps and timeline as it does during contract negotiations.

“We reserve the right to do that,” Bloch said. “We can take action on our own.”

But district attorneys say any complaints would have to be taken up with the state’s education labor relations board, which last month ruled against the CTU in a separate case.

The district’s announcement about the pension pickup came one day after Claypool said all CPS employees must take three unpaid days off, starting on March 25, which is Good Friday.

The district plans to cancel classes that day, when student turnout is usually low, Claypool said. Teachers also will miss two professional development days, when students wouldn’t have been in class. In total, CPS officials estimate the furloughs will save about $30 million.

Earlier this week, the district sent layoff notices to 62 employees, including 17 teachers.

Kalyn is a reporter for The Chicago Reporter. Email her at and follow her on Twitter @kalynbelsha.

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