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CTU posts ‘What’s at stake’ primer on contract talks, strike

Chicago Teachers Union rally and march in downtown Chicago on Friday, April 1, 2016. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

As strike rumors have been flying around, the Chicago Teachers Union has published a lengthy “What’s at stake” primer of what it has been seeking from the school system and what teachers should do as they prepare for students to report to classes next week.

The post on the CTU’s website compares its most recent contract asks with those offered by Chicago Public Schools, answers logistical questions, and offers members advice on what to say to parents and community members as the union considers striking later in the school year.

The union’s group of 40 negotiators known as the Big Bargaining Team has urged teachers to walk off the job if a contract hasn’t been reached by October. The House of Delegates, which governs the union of about 26,000, will discuss that possibility at a meeting next week.

“It is our responsibility to communicate to our members,” union spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said. “What is posted is accurate, and people are heading back to schools and we want them armed with as much information as possible.”

Nearly two years into negotiations to replace the contract that expired in June 2015, the teachers and the school district still disagree on a number of key points, money obviously, but also how many years the contract should last.

The union has said it won’t accept a deal that cuts teacher pay, blaming CPS’ two biggest cost drivers of debt service and charter expansion.

“Instead of going after teachers who already have experienced pay freezes, mass layoffs and budget cuts, the mayor and his CPS CEO should go after the big banks that ripped off the city and the schools,” they wrote.

Teachers voted to authorize a strike last December. Nothing legally prevents them from walking out. But they may take another strike vote to replace the one conducted eight months ago to “offset any potential legal challenges” that may come from Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“One option is to circulate voting materials in schools with every CTU member signing onto a petition,” the post said. “It would help us get organized in our buildings and send a powerful message to the city that we’re ready to fight for a fair contract. We would also be able to declare it as another official authorization vote to offset any potential legal challenges.”

District spokeswoman Emily Bittner repeated CPS’ position that it “remains open and willing to listen to any ideas that the CTU leadership presents to make the existing framework better for both parties. CPS’ continued objective is to give teachers a fair raise that works within our budget constraints.”

She also pointed to a number of agreed-upon “quality of life” issues the union has long lobbied for regarding paperwork, grading, evaluations and community schools.

“We are hopeful that a strike can be averted, and we are committed to working at the bargaining table to reach a fair contract,” she wrote.

Union leadership also believes the issues are “not insurmountable.”

“Bargaining has been ongoing throughout the summer but the Board of Ed has barely moved from its offer on January 29, 2016. As you can see from the comparison between its position and ours, we have a long way to go. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his appointed Board have shown time and time again that they will not compromise or back down unless we exercise our power. Preparing for a strike is our ultimate power, and unless we prepare, we will likely never get a decent contract from the Board.”