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CPS offers to stop using private nurses at schools, union says plan has ‘loopholes’

Chicago school officials are proposing to end the practice of outsourcing nursing and other services. But the Chicago Teachers Union wants stronger guarantees.

A Chicago Public Schools proposal would end the practice of using private nurses in schools.
A Chicago Public Schools proposal would end the practice of using private nurses in schools.
Sun-Times files

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s negotiating team has offered to end the outsourcing of nursing and other support staff jobs in the Chicago Public Schools in an effort to seal a deal with the Chicago Teachers Union and avert a strike, according to two senior CPS officials.

The CTU is unlikely to accept the city’s proposal because it “includes huge loopholes that essentially render their proposal meaningless,” Stacy Davis Gates, the union’s vice president, told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The offer is contingent on concessions from the CTU, including withdrawing all proposals for additional social workers, nurses, librarians and other so-called wraparound services, sources close to the negotiations said. The union has been unwilling to drop those issues, and a CTU spokeswoman said the two sides remain “worlds apart.”

The other concession would see the CTU agree to the school system’s preferred contract length of five years. That would carry Lightfoot more than a year into a potential second term and avoid another contract standoff with the CTU in her first term.

The CPS proposal — made in late July — would put an end, starting with this school year, to contracts that outsource jobs such as counselors, school psychologists, school social workers, case managers, speech pathologists, occupational therapists and physical therapists. Though privatization isn’t widely used for those positions, those jobs would be filled only by full-time union employees.

CPS would have more time to end contracted nursing work in particular but would commit to phasing out privatization of nurses by the end of the 2023-24 school year, CPS officials said.

Nursing positions are the ones most commonly outsourced, and the CTU, parents and students have taken issue in the past with the privatization of nursing jobs. CPS has said those positions have needed to be outsourced because it’s difficult to find qualified candidates for full-time jobs.

Though that could still be a problem, a CPS source said school officials feel more confident now about being able to recruit and retain nurses to fulfill a promise to end privatized nursing in the next four years.

The proposal also includes an offer to end outsourcing of teacher assistant or librarian positions “unless necessary,” in which case the city will give the union 30 days notice. Few, if any, of those positions are currently privatized.

There’s no guarantee CPS will follow through, which is a sticking point for the CTU, Davis Gates said. The union would consider the offer only if the city guarantees CPS will fulfill its promises, a CTU spokeswoman said.

“We welcome a real proposal that actually limits CPS’ failed experiment in privatization of nursing staff and other critical clinical workers,” Davis Gates said.

Though the city’s latest proposal includes a 16% pay raise over five years, the CTU has been threatening a strike if its demands on wraparound services aren’t met. The union has asked for nurses and librarians in every school, more social workers and smaller class sizes.

CTU sets strike date

During a house of delegates meeting Wednesday, the CTU set a date of Sept. 26 to vote on whether to strike. If approved, the earliest teachers would walk out is Oct. 7.

The two sides are expected back at the bargaining table Thursday.