CTU negotiations could pick up with mayoral race settled

SHARE CTU negotiations could pick up with mayoral race settled
SHARE CTU negotiations could pick up with mayoral race settled

The Chicago Teachers Union said Wednesday it hopes the end of the mayoral election season leads to quicker contract negotiations even though it has to bargain with the mayor it opposed.

But the union is taking a more conciliatory approach to the ongoing negotiations, though vice president Jesse Sharkey makes no bones that the process will be easy. The union backed Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who lost in the city’s first mayoral runoff Tuesday to Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The union blames Emanuel for the 2012 teachers strike that lasted seven days.

“We have been counting on difficulties in negotiations no matter who we’re negotiating with because the conditions are very difficult in the schools right now. There’s a lot of simmering crises in the schools, and we want to address it,” Sharkey said, citing budget cuts, class sizes and teacher workloads.

Plus, the board is projecting a $1.1 billion deficit for the fiscal year starting July 1.

“One of the first questions that’s in the hopper is whether the city will offer us an extension on this contract,” Sharkey said. The contract was guaranteed for three years with 3 percent raises in the first and optional fourth years and 2 percent raises in years two and three.

That’s already a change in tone for the CTU. President Karen Lewis said in the thick of mayoral campaigning in February that her 24,000 members would reject such an offer, preferring a new contract for which they were willing to strike again.

The union is looking for guarantees of no mass layoffs or school closings, Sharkey said, adding, “And I’ll say what our members tell me is, ‘What good is a 3 percent raise if they close our schools and we get fired?’ In other words, there are things that are more important than the money.”

The board has until April 30 to extend the fourth-year offer for the contract expiring June 30, CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said. He would not say whether the board would make that offer, saying the district doesn’t negotiate in public.

“CPS . . . will need help to keep these challenges from impacting the education of our students,” he said in an email.

Emanuel said Tuesday night in his victory speech that he’s “humbled” to have been given a second chance to run the city. Sharkey said whether that translates into smoother negotiations than in 2012 remains to be seen.

“Mayor Emanuel is still the mayor. And the mayor still holds a lot of power in this city, so that hasn’t changed completely,” he said. But the end of campaigning should quicken the “frustratingly slow” process, Sharkey said.

Sharkey said it was a positive change that CPS has sent educators to bargaining sessions rather than staffers with corporate backgrounds who negotiated in 2012. Another positive sign was the runoff election forced by Garcia, he said. The CTU contributed about $700,000 to Garcia’s campaign.

“I believe the mayor has a different political calculation toward us than he did the last time,” Sharkey said. “We’ve shown we’re a politically effective force. We have an important coalition.”

Contributing: Dan Mihalopoulos

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