Brown: Teachers union needs to get serious

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Come to find out, “serious offer” does not mean “good offer” in Chicago Teachers Union-speak, more like “not good enough.”

In a real head-scratcher, the CTU’s Big Bargaining Team, not to be confused with its Primary Bargaining Team, unanimously rejected a contract offer from Chicago Public Schools that union leaders had thought was good enough to put to a vote.

CTU officials explained Monday the rejection was caused by lack of trust by union members that CPS management would follow through on key promises in what the district considered a tentative agreement.

But however unintentionally, the rejection also seemed to speak to a lack of faith in CTU President Karen Lewis and her executive negotiating team, who clearly thought they had a deal worth bringing back to the members.

In the process, the union’s move cast a further pall on an already-challenged CPS borrowing plan that district officials say is needed to forestall massive teacher layoffs this school year.

“I know people were expecting something completely different,” Lewis told reporters after the Big Bargaining Team’s decision.

Well, yes, we were expecting something completely different because there was absolutely no sensible reason to put the offer up for rejection at this time unless she wanted it to be rejected.

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And every indication is that wasn’t the case.

Lewis later admitted she was one of the people taken by surprise by the bargaining team turning down the offer, although she said she saw it coming last week almost immediately after the contract details were presented to the full complement of 40 bargaining team members.

The deal addressed many of the union’s key demands, including job security and a lid on charter school proliferation, offset by a requirement that teachers start to contribute toward their own pensions.

“There were a lot of things that were great,” Lewis conceded.

RELATED:Teachers union rejects CPS contract offer

As much as the CTU prides itself on being a democratic union whose members make the decisions instead of the leaders, it’s not exactly a good sign when the union president doesn’t know where her own team will land.

There are times when union membership has to be led.

Looking at it from the other side, how does schools CEOForrest Claypool and his team negotiate with a union bargaining committee that can’t confidently speak for its members?

Rather than say that as impolitely as me, Claypool issued a more even-handed statement expressing disappointment and promising to return to the bargaining table immediately to work out their differences.

I’m not passing judgment on whether it was a good contract or a bad contract.

That’s for the union members to decide, although I would say that from the outside, it looks like a pretty fair deal, with some major concessions by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s CPS management team.

You can bet that Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Republicans looking for a state takeover of CPS that could lead to bankruptcy were looking for a deal that treats CTU members much more harshly.

The CTU is in a very unique place, as far as labor unions go in the 21st century, its members still empowered by the perceived success of its 2012 strike.

But I would caution its members that if they’re seriously contemplating another strike they should expect to encounter a less sympathetic public than they did in 2012, when public opinion was on their side.

In the intervening years, Chicagoans have become better educated to the depth of the public pension funding crisis — and more resentful of getting stuck with the bill that is coming due, even if that’s not the teachers’ fault.

City taxpayers are already braced for a property tax increase that does not even include the added $200 million tax levy CPS had pledged to seek as part of this deal with CTU.

Lewis said the single biggest issue her members had with the offer is that there are no guarantees CPS will be able to deliver any of the new revenue it promised.

There are no guarantees Chicago Public Schools will survive the year.

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