CTU House of Delegates recommends new contract

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Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis (pictured on Sept. 28, 2016) said: “I think there’s enough in this tentative agreement that will appeal to the overwhelming majority of our members.” | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times

The Chicago Teachers Union’s governing delegates are happy enough with the proposed four-year contract agreement, reached just in time to avert a strike, that it recommended that members ratify it.

Meeting Wednesday night, hundreds of delegates discussed the tentative agreement that will net them at least $100 million more in total benefits than a January deal that got shot down. And then they voted 328-153 in favor, standing up when asked to indicate a yes or no.

The delegates also set a referendum vote for the full membership to ratify the agreement on Oct. 27 and 28. About 25,000 union members will vote by secret ballot in their schools.

Though the delegates weren’t expected to nix the deal, their dissent was larger than usual for the typically unified CTU. When the question was called to a vote, people were still in line to speak at microphones, according to the union.

The special education teachers and clinicians in particular weren’t happy with the lack of guarantees written into the agreement.

They had hopes, for example, to get written caps on clinician-student ratios in CPS-run schools, which have about 300,000 students but only about 300 social workers.

President Karen Lewis said those issues weren’t strikeable, so it’s now up to members and parents to put pressure on the district to fulfill the many special education vacancies.

“What we’re trying to do is bring the plight of the special ed teacher to the board so that they understand the kinds of things that need to be in place,” she said.

She said much of the evening’s discussion centered around a lack of trust that CPS will follow through on its promises.

“We have been told one thing in the past and it didn’t come true,” Lewis said. “So a lot of people have so much distrust for the board they wanted to say no to the [agreement], and a lot of the questions back and forth were about that.”

But she predicted a simple majority would approve, turning the agreement into a contract, saying, “I think there’s enough in this tentative agreement that will appeal to the overwhelming majority of our members.”

CPS and the mayor’s administration have so far refused to discuss the agreement’s full price tag or any cost details, with CPS saying the CTU should first present the terms to members. Meanwhile, the Chicago Sun-Times has reported costs of about $8.9 billion over its full term — or at least $100 million more than the rejected January proposal.

Despite the solid support shown by delegates, district spokeswoman Emily Bittner still remained mum about the money.

Instead she sent a generic statement lauding the delegates for taking “an important step forward today in recommending that teachers ratify this tentative agreement.”

What is known is that all CTU members will resume the raises they get for education and experience this year, and then they’ll get a 2 percent cost of living raise next year, and then 2.5 percent in its fourth and final year.

Existing members get to keep a 7 percent pension benefit the district has been making on their behalf, but all new employees hired after Jan. 1 will get a 7 percent pay bump instead.

That “pension pickup” had been threatened by CPS, partly because the state needed to see teachers sacrifice before handing over $215 million that’s still contingent on legislators passing “pension reform.”

With the teachers settled, Lewis also expects her members will join CPS to lobby Springfield to improve the state’s education funding formula and to curtail the power of a statewide commission on charter schools.

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