With the start of the regular-track school year quickly approaching, CTU President Karen Lewis is sounding the warning bell that the union and the district still need to resolve many issues before a strike can be ruled out.

Without some movement, “we are preparing for a strike,” she says. “You prepare for war, pray for peace.”

This was the first insight into the negotiation process since the district and CTU announced a partial agreement on July 24. In the partial agreement, the district agreed to lessen the amount of time teachers have to work by rescheduling the day and hiring an additional 480 teachers. In exchange, the union agreed to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s longer school day.

If the union wants to declare a strike before the start of the regular-track school year, it would have to do so on or before Aug. 24. State law requires a 10-day notice.

CPS Spokeswoman Becky Carroll said the agreement that allows for the longer school day was the “most significant obstacle.”

“We are pleased with the tone and encouraged by the progress,” she said. From CPS’ standpoint, discussions have been “robust” on other issues.

However, Lewis said the two sides are haggling over smaller issues, such as wording on the preamble, and are just starting to talk about health care. Lewis says there’s several outstanding issues that the union is not willing to concede, but that they haven’t been discussed for a while. Among them, compensation and step and lane salary increases, which are based on experience and education.

“Whether the contract gets resolved depends on the board,” Lewis said. “We have been very straightforward and honest about our position on these.”

Lewis said she worries that the CPS leadership is ideological on some issues, such as wanting merit pay, or what CPS calls a differentiated pay scale.

Carroll said that compensation has been discussed, but that it is one of the last issues that will be resolved because it depends on the outcome of other issues.

Lewis needs to get the message out that a strike is still on the table because many assume that the partial agreement prevents it from happening. A radio ad from an advocacy group called Education Reform Now seems to confuse the issue, by stating that school will now start on time.

“I don’t know if there will be a strike,” Lewis said. “I would need a crystal ball to tell you and I don’t have one.”

But Carroll said that, with the partial agreement reached, going on strike would send the wrong message to students. 

Sarah is the deputy editor of Catalyst Chicago.

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