Teachers union unhappy with Lightfoot contract offer; would increase pay 14% over five years

The salary increase is just over half of what the CTU has demanded.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot talking to reporters at a news conference near Navy Pier on Wednesday, July 3, 2019.

Fran Spielman for the Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday she’s made a $300 million offer to the Chicago Teachers Union that would give teachers a 14% pay raise over five years, but CTU President Jesse Sharkey said it’s “not good enough” to avert another teachers’ strike.

The mayor’s offer not only falls far short of the 5%-per-year the CTU has demanded but, Sharkey argued, when increased health insurance costs are factored in, it’s more like an 11.7% pay raise over five years.

“This is not good enough. ... The wage offer is anemic. It’s weak. It’s less than we’re expecting. Combine it with the fact that we haven’t heard anything else about the other pieces, it paints a picture where we really have not gotten a serious response to the important issues we’re raising,” Sharkey said.

“It does not address any of the important staffing problems that we have. It doesn’t address the special education. We haven’t heard anything from the board about counseling, nurses, librarians or any of our other issues like class size.”

Sharkey said a teachers strike that would be Chicago’s second in seven years remains a “distinct possibility.”

In addition to its demand for a 5% pay raise, the union has demanded: more generous benefits; librarians and nurses at every school; more special education and bilingual support; reduced class sizes; and a counselor for every 250 students.

“We need to hear what CPS has to say about staffing, about class size and about other critical issues. ... For every day that goes by where we haven’t gotten an offer that addresses the important issues in our schools, [a strike] becomes a more distinct and realistic possibility,” Sharkey said.

Lightfoot portrayed the offer as “robust and fair” and argued it merits serious consideration by a union that was one of vanquished mayoral challenger Toni Preckwinkle’s biggest and most powerful supporters.

“It’s over $300 million. A five-year contract. Over the life of the contract, it would represent a 14% increase. That’s a pretty good offer,” the mayor told reporters at an unrelated news conference near Navy Pier.

“I hope that they will come to us with a serious evaluation of that and embrace the reality that there’s no reason why we can’t get a deal done well in advance of the time school starts.”

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel used one-time revenues to stave off a second teachers strike on his watch.

Wednesday, Lightfoot was asked how beleaguered Chicago taxpayers could afford a $300 million offer.

She pointed to the historic re-write of the school funding formula and to the Illinois General Assembly’s decision to give the Chicago Public Schools a $450 million cash infusion and bankroll teacher pensions going forward.

“The General Assembly actually acted to improve the funding formula for school districts across the state. That’s the money and resources that we are depending upon to provide the contract,” she said.

“So, we feel very good about the offer. It’s important that people recognize that we’ve been actively engaged with the CTU really since January of this year. We’ve had 23 separate bargaining negotiations.”

Earlier this week, the CTU did a bit of saber-rattling on the contract issue to turn up the heat on the new mayor to come forward with her contract offer.

On Wednesday, CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates argued that what they got from Lightfoot was”nothing visionary” and nothing like what she promised during her history-making mayoral campaign.

”We would like to negotiate with candidate Lightfoot, to be perfectly honest with you. As a candidate, Mayor Lightfoot made proposals to transform Chicago Public Schools,” Davis Gates said.

“This doesn’t represent vision or transformation. It sort of represents the same slap in the face.”

In 2012, Emanuel’s bullying missteps provoked a seven-day strike that was Chicago’s first in 25 years. Four years later, he avoided another strike, only after using an $87.5 million tax-increment-financing surplus that the mayor’s own City Council floor leader acknowledged was “not sustainable.”

Lightfoot is known for having a long political memory. She has acknowledged that all is not forgotten or forgiven when it comes to the CTU’s support for Preckwinkle.

But, she has also jokingly promised not to “lead with my middle finger” when it comes to dealing with the CTU.

Asked on the eve of the election about the likelihood of another teachers strike, Lightfoot has said, “Not on my watch.”

Contributing: Nader Issa

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