‘The clock has started’ toward teachers strike, Karen Lewis says

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Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and her members picket during a one-day teachers’ strike on April 1, 2016. | Sun-Times file photo

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said Saturday “the clock has started,” counting down to a possible teachers strike after the union rejected the recommendations of an independent fact-finder whose job was to help resolve their ongoing contract dispute with Chicago Public Schools.

Steven Bierig’s report was released Saturday afternoon, as was the CTU’s formal rejection letter.

“The clock has started,” Lewis said. “We have no choice [but] to prepare ourselves for a possible strike.”

Forrest Claypool, Chicago’s schools chief, speaks Saturday after the Chicago Teachers Union rejected a fact-finder’s contract recommendations. Tina Sfondeles / Sun-Times

Forrest Claypool, Chicago’s schools chief, speaks Saturday after the Chicago Teachers Union rejected a fact-finder’s contract recommendations. Tina Sfondeles / Sun-Times

There’s now a required “cooling-off period.” The earliest the union could strike is May 16.

State law requires the fact-finder to weigh in before teachers could walk off the job.

Bierig’s report — with recommendations “virtually unchanged” from a recent offer the union shot down, according to what sources told the Chicago Sun-Times on Friday — was to remain confidential for 15 days unless negotiators for the union or CPS rejected it.

He sided with the Chicago Board of Education on all key issues, including the phase-out of a pension pickup, a four-year contract instead of the two-year deal the union wants and the board’s health-care proposal.

In his report — based on two days of hearings — Bierig called the board’s proposal “the most appropriate resolution,” “the most reasonable approach to an extremely different situation” and “the most viable choice.”

Bierig also noted that the union called the board’s first proposal a “serious offer” before rejecting it.

“While I am also cognizant that, as the union dictates, this is a relatively minor tip of a much larger iceberg, it is nonetheless a step in the right direction,” Bierig wrote.

The union’s house of delegates had given top CTU leaders the authority to reject the fact-finder’s recommendations. Now, the union will still meet with its delegates on April 25.

It now has the right to strike as of May 16 but has to first give a 10-day notice that it’s planning to walk off.

June 21 is the scheduled last day of the school year in Chicago.

The union’s membership already authorized a strike.

“We have to talk to our people,” Lewis said. “We don’t know if we are going to force the school year to a close now or strike when the next school year begins.

“Either way, we won’t be held hostage by the board’s zombie budgets. They need to go after the banks, TIF funds and other forms of short- and long-term revenue that is sitting right in front of us.”

The proposal that Lewis had initially termed a “serious offer” would have given teachers net raises over four years, the phasing-out of a 7 percent pension contribution that CPS has been making on union members’ behalf over two years and a return to raises for continuing education and experience known as “steps” and “lanes” as soon as next school year.

At a news conference Saturday afternoon, Forrest Claypool, CPS’ chief executive officer, said he was disappointed the union didn’t agree with the fact-finder’s recommendations: “We believe that should be the basis for a contract.

“This report should not be a precursor to a strike,” Claypool said. “It must be a precursor to a final agreement.”

He called the union’s rejection of the recommendations “premature” and said he hopes CTU members will read the report for themselves and reach a different conclusion than their union leaders.

He said CPS’s finances have “deteriorated” since the first contract offer, made Jan. 29. Without an agreement and without increased funding from Springfield, he said Chicago’s schools will face tough choices, like “larger class sizes, fewer teachers, outdated textbooks and crumbing buildings.”

“All roads lead through Springfield,” Claypool said, urging a united front to fight for more education funding.

Claypool said he’s willing to negotiate with union’s leaders during the city schools’ spring break this coming week. The 27,000 union members have been working without a new contract since June 30.

CPS/CTU Final Fact Finding Recommendation

Concurrence by Chicago Board of Education

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