Union: Teacher strike could start Tuesday as contract talks stall

SHARE Union: Teacher strike could start Tuesday as contract talks stall

Chicago teachers union president Karen Lewis shakes hands following a press conference Friday. Union leaders said they had been unable to agree on a new contract with Chicago Public Schools. Teachers on Tuesday may stage their third walkout since Rahm Emanuel became mayor. | Andy Grimm/Sun-Times

Chicago Teachers Union leaders Friday said there was “movement” but no deal in contract talks, and a third strike in four years could begin Tuesday if negotiations with Chicago Public Schools remain stalled over the three-day weekend.

At a press conference at CTU headquarters, President Karen Lewis said the union and CPS negotiators would continue talks over the weekend and into the Columbus Day holiday Monday, but by Tuesday morning, the union would let its 28,000 members know whether to show up in the classroom or on a picket line.

Because teachers can strike only over pay and benefit issues, coverage of the divide between CTU and CPS has centered on the district’s desire to have teachers contribute a greater share of their salary towards the pension fund, a move that could reduce paychecks even though CPS was offering a pay increase.

But with the third teachers strike in four years looming, union leaders seemed to up the ante in talks that have stretched for more than a year, calling for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to free up some $200 million to boost per-student spending in CPS by $500.

“We want no cuts to our pay and benefits. We want adequate staffing and revenue so we can have at least $500 more for student in order to accommodate the needs of our students,” Lewis said, flanked by teachers and activists.

Lewis said if teachers walk out Tuesday it will be over the pay and benefit issues, but said the increased funding would enable schools to hire back staff like librarians and counselors, positions that have been cut from many schools as CPS has faced years of increasingly austere classroom budgets.

Lewis did not spell out where the $200 million would come from, though she suggested that draining money from tax-increment finance districts could foot some of the bill and that lawmakers in Springfield need to raise funding for CPS.

Any agreement reached by the CTU team actually in the room negotiating would have to be approved by the union’s so-called “big bargaining team,” then move to a vote by the full membership, steps Lewis said would be taken quickly if a deal is reached.

Union members last year rejected a deal that had been approved by leadership; that agreement was for a four-year contract extension that CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said included raises, job security guarantees and caps on charter school expansion.

The district has faced a fiscal crisis as it copes with a massive shortfall pension shortfall that prompted a property tax hike aimed at pumping $250 million into the pension fund. Declines in per-pupil funding have forced layoffs at the start of this school year as well.

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