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State board rules against teacher ‘steps and lanes’ raises

A state board that oversees school labor disputes ruled against immediately reinstating raises for education and experience to members of the Chicago Teachers Union, but could reconsider the teachers’ request at a later trial.

A cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools told the union over the summer that it wouldn’t pay the “steps and lanes” raises while the parties negotiated a new contract to replace the one that expired June 30.

In November after several months of bargaining, the union filed a grievance with the five-member Illinois Education Labor Relations Board asking for immediate help. Three of the board’s members were appointed by anti-union Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Their request was unanimously denied Thursday morning following a brief hearing, said CTU attorney Robert Bloch, who intends to prepare the case for trial.

“For 50 years there’s been an unbroken practice to the school board paying steps and lanes,” worth about $26 million a year, Bloch said. That even includes four times, he said “when the contract expired and teachers went back to work without a contract.”

He said the labor board believed the problem could be remedied with back pay, should the union prevail.

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner praised the decision.

“Looking forward, our goal is to build on the agreement we reached last month with CTU leadership, so that we can finalize a fair deal that gives our teachers a raise over the life of the contract, protects our classrooms and allows our students to build on their academic gains.”

Meanwhile, the parties continue to negotiate a new deal. The CTU’s 40-member Big Bargaining Team rejected the last offer in January that included no “steps and lanes” in its first year but put them back in the contract’s remaining three years. A “fact-finding” process also already has begun which will result in contract recommendations from an independent arbiter — the union cannot legally strike until the fact-finder has weighed in.