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Chicago Teachers Union demands response from Lightfoot in contract talks

‘We’re being studied. We’re not being engaged,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey says

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey, with union members and staff, speak at a news conference Monday.
David Roeder/Sun-Times

The Chicago Teachers Union, comparing Mayor Lori Lightfoot to her predecessor, said Monday that her chief negotiators have yet to submit a contract proposal despite more than six months of discussions and that its members will strike in September if provoked.

Noting that Lightfoot uses the same bargaining team as former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, CTU President Jesse Sharkey said there has been no response to the union’s proposal for pay and staffing increases made in January.

“We’re being studied. We’re not being engaged. And that’s got to stop,” Sharkey said during a news conference at CTU headquarters, 1901 W. Carroll Ave. The union’s four-year contract with the Chicago Public Schools expired Sunday.

Talks have been ongoing but unproductive, CTU officials said. “We are literally in a room where they expect us to negotiate with ourselves,” said Stacy Davis Gates, CTU vice president.

Asked about the CTU remarks at an unrelated news conference, Lightfoot said, “None of that is true. ... We’ve been at the table [since] way before I became mayor. Those discussions started last year. They’re meeting almost weekly. So, there is progress being made.

“What you hear outside doesn’t bear the reality of what’s actually going on at the bargaining table. I can imagine why they’re putting this message out. But it is far from accurate. We are bargaining in good faith. We’ve got a great team in place. We’re meeting with them on a regular basis.”

The CTU supported vanquished mayoral challenger Toni Preckwinkle against Lightfoot.

Lightfoot, who has a long memory, has acknowledged that “all is not forgotten” or forgiven politically.

But she said she is determined to hammer out a new contract that’s fair to Chicago teachers and improves support services to neighborhood schools before the start of the new school year.

A representative of the Chicago Public Schools was not available for comment.

The CTU had an explosive relationship with Emanuel, striking for nine days on his watch in 2012. After the strike, Emanuel closed schools and cut staff.

“The last four years, we’ve been screwed under the contract,” Sharkey said. The CTU has advised members to save money in preparation for a strike.

Union members at the CTU news conference spoke in support of staffing increases in areas such as special education. They criticized Lightfoot’s newly installed Board of Education for renewing a school rating system based largely on test scores and attendance.

Special education teacher Katie Osgood, a member of the bargaining team, called the rating system “harmful and racist” and said it leads principals to push poor-performing students out of their schools to improve ratings.

The union in January proposed a 5 percent pay increase, staffing increases for support services and reduced class sizes.

Davis Gates said the CPS negotiators have promised a response that’s “several weeks away,” too close to the first day of school.