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Teachers union doesn’t expect much from fact-finder report

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey | Sun-Times file photo

Chicago Teachers Union leaders have asked their governing body for the power to consider contract recommendations from a fact-finder during next week’s spring break.

That’s because the union is likely to reject those recommendations, which they and the Board of Education will receive Saturday, according to vice president Jesse Sharkey. And that starts the 30-day countdown until the CTU could launch a contract strike.

“I don’t have very high expectations that the fact-finder is going to write our contract for us,” Sharkey said late last week. “But I think right now the expectation of our members is there’s not going to be anything much in here that we’re going to find encouraging, and that we’re likely to reject it even though we’re going to pay attention to what’s in it.”

Delegates voted to approve that power, Sharkey said.

Steven Bierig, a professional arbiter agreed upon by CPS and CTU, has met numerous times with them since Feb. 1. Fact-finding is a step spelled out in state law governing CPS contract negotiations that must conclude before teachers can walk out over contract disputes.

That law didn’t apply to the one-day strike the CTU staged on April 1, so CPS is still contesting the legality of that strike with a state authority, asking the CTU to pay for related costs.

Board attorney and negotiator James Franczek said the union’s position comes too soon.

“It’s a little premature to shoot something down that you haven’t even seen yet,” he said. “It’s also a bit frustrating as well as disturbing that the point of this process is to try to get an agreement and we’ve been working very hard to do that for the last six to eight months.”

The financially strapped district — which has borrowed hundreds of millions at sky-high interest rates for operations while awaiting pension help from Springfield — has said that it believes a deal can be reached since the parties came close in January. That’s when CTU leadership took an offer it considered “serious” to its 40-member bargaining team. The team rejected those terms.

Bierig’s report will be sent to the union and district on Saturday, the first day of CPS’ weeklong spring break. Both sides have 15 days to consider his recommendations. If they agree on his terms, his recommendations automatically become the new teachers contract to replace the one that expired last June. As soon as either side rejects his report, it becomes public and a 30-day cooling off period also begins, meaning the soonest the CTU could strike is May 16.

Sharkey stopped short of saying whether the union would opt to strike so close to the end of the school year, but has said in the past that walking out of classrooms when students are preparing for finals and graduation could put the right pressure on the district.

But he said Friday that in 2012, when a fact-finder also was employed to sort out contract disputes between CPS and CTU, many of that arbiter’s recommendations ended up in the final settlement forged during a historic seven-day contract strike that September.

He said he told delegates at a meeting last week about a union tradition: “Don’t put our fate in the hands of an arbitrator,” saying that the Board of Education helped write the pertinent state law.

Franczek said that while he drafted some of the language himself, the law overwhelmingly passed the General Assembly with CTU input as well.

“This is a very carefully drafted statute whose whole goal is to attempt to get the parties to reach an agreement,” he said. “It sounds to me they’re looking for excuses already to say no, which is most unfortunate. We want to get this resolved and move on to Springfield.”