Karen Lewis says ‘no trust’ between CTU and Board of Ed

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Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis (pictured at a City Club of Chicago event in February) said Wednesday that it’s too early to talk about a teachers strike, but the union would do “whatever we have to do to stop” a proposed pay cut. | Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times

Signaling a bitter contract fight in the coming weeks, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said Wednesday there is “no trust” between the union and the Chicago Board of Education.

“We are insulted by their refusal to extend the contract with a 3 percent raise,” Lewis said after a meeting with union delegates at the International Operating Engineers Hall at 2260 S. Grove St. “We are beyond insulted by the board’s move to decrease our pay by 7 percent.”

Lewis said it was too early to talk about a strike, but she said the union would do “whatever we have to do to stop” the pay cut.

That began Wednesday with the CTU filing an unfair labor practices complaint with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board. The union alleges the Board of Education has engaged in “bad faith bargaining,” among other things.

Late last week, the board told the union it would not offer an optional fourth year of its existing contract, which expires on June 30.

The district asserts it can’t afford the $105 million in raises guaranteed in that deal. The union said Wednesday that the board wants teachers, social workers and other union members to take a 7 percent pay cut by paying their own pension contributions.

In an emailed statement Wednesday night, interim CPS CEO Jesse Ruiz commented on the CTU news conference: “The financial crises facing Chicago Public Schools has arrived at our classroom doors and threatens to destroy our top priority — ensuring our students and teachers have the resources they need to succeed in the classroom. While CPS has not reviewed the complaint and is unable to comment specifically on its content, we look forward to continuing our conversations on the next contract as well as joining teachers, principals and parents to work together to increase state funding for education and reform a broken system that forces Chicago residents to pay twice for teacher pensions.”

As she did earlier in the week, Lewis on Wednesday called the Board of Ed proposals “reactionary and retaliatory.”

“We are organizing, and we will show our displeasure,” Lewis said.

Lewis also had harsh words for Gov. Bruce Rauner and his anti-union remarks at City Hall earlier Wednesday.

“When our governor comes here and says, we don’t want you, we don’t need you, we want you gone — then we know that that agenda is in motion and we intend to do whatever we can to stop it,” Lewis said.

Representatives from both sides are set to meet a week from Thursday.

At a news conference earlier Wednesday, after the City Council meeting, Mayor Rahm Emanuel responded to the CTU’s claim that the proposed7 percent pay cut was an “insulting” way to open negotiations.

He emphasized that the offer was part of an “early process.” He also said Chicago teachers were “working hard” and achieving “incredible results” for students.

“But challenges fiscally also exist. Now, we’ve made reforms — and taken about $750 million out of the system. But we have to be honest with the public and the taxpayers . . .

“So while I’m confident that we can work through the issues, we have serious fiscal challenges. And I ways remind people . . . $750 million of the $1 billion deficit is from pension payments; $500 million of it is from last payments that were never made.”

He added, “Half the challenge is making up for what happened in the rear-view mirror. We have to do that on an honest way and deal with it so it doesn’t undermine all the gains we’re making educationally.”

Teachers have argued they should not be punished now for pension payments missed or dramatically reduced by politicians.

“They are right. They didn’t make that decision. But it was made,” Emanuel said.

“Our responsibility is to work together to make sure there’s a pension and do it in a way that doesn’t undermine what we’re trying to do in both the classroom and educationally as a whole.”

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