Chicago teachers ‘highly insulted’ over request for 7 percent pay cut

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The Chicago Board of Education wants teachers, social workers and other union members to take a 7 percent pay cut by paying their own pension contributions, according to the Chicago Teachers Union.

The proposal — likely signaling an austerity contract and rough bargaining to come — was denounced by a “highly insulted” union.

CTU President Karen Lewis, who led her members to strike in 2012 for the first time in 25 years, accused CPS of being “broke on purpose” and of retaliating against the union for opposing the mayor in his recent re-election campaign.

“Once again, the board has created a fiscal crisis in order to justify its continued attack on our classrooms and communities. By citing its so-called $1.5 billion deficit, the mayor is proposing a reduction in teaching staff which will result in larger class sizes and the loss of teaching positions,” Lewis said in a press release.

“The CTU is highly insulted,” said union spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin, who planned a press conference on Wednesday.

The union said CPS agreed in 1981 to pay for 7 percent of the 9 percent of each CTU member’s pension contribution in lieu of a raise the board said it couldn’t afford at that time. A member earning about $70,000 a year would have to pay about $5,000 into pensions, according to the union, if CPS ceases the 7 percent “pension pickup.”

CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey could not immediately say how much money such a cut would save the district, which is burdened with a $1.1 billion deficit and at least $9 billion in pension obligations. Nor would he comment on any of the union’s claims, saying that the district does not negotiate in public.

“Illinois is second to last in education funding, and Chicago teachers and taxpayers are being shortchanged because of a broken pension system that forces Chicago residents to pay twice for teacher pensions,” McCaffrey said in an email. “In the coming weeks, we hope to work with CTU in Springfield on the pressing issues facing CPS. Our students and Chicago taxpayers should not have to continue carrying the burden of these financial inequities.”

McCaffrey also noted that the district contributed nothing to teacher pensions from 1995 to 2004, saying then-Mayor Richard M. Daley obtained three additional pension holidays from Springfield for 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Late last week, the board told the union it would not offer an optional fourth year of its existing contract that expires June 30, saying the district could not afford the $105 million in raises guaranteed in that deal.

On Friday, the district also released its smallest-ever proposed capital budget, a mere $160 million compared to more than $400 million the year before. Individual school budgets for the fiscal year starting July 1 also have not yet been released, the district said, because it doesn’t yet know what might be coming from the General Assembly.

“I hate to keep repeating myself, but that’s the harsh reality that we definitely need Springfield to step up and do its part in light of a $1.1 billion budget deficit,” said Interim CEO Jesse Ruiz, who was appointed recently in the wake of a federal investigation into a $20 million no-bid contract.

“Beyond that, we do not discuss contract negotiations for obvious reasons, but we value our teachers and we look forward to working with them to have an agreement as soon as possible,” he said.

The union’s House of Delegates will hold its May meeting late Wednesday afternoon, when the contract is sure to come up.

“Is it too early to take a strike vote?” asked Robert Bruno, a professor of labor relations at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who’s also writing a book about the 2012 strike. “There’s nothing in the law . . . they can take it whenever they want it.”

No one expects that the teachers will see such a large pay cut based on talks this early, Bruno said, but the offer is sending a strong message from the board: “We want to frame the bargaining as an austerity contract in unprecedented bad times.”

Besides offending the CTU, the 7 percent isn’t going to leave them much room to make a counteroffer, Bruno said. “It’s probably going to mean bargaining isn’t going anywhere.”

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