Lightfoot says talks with CTU hung up on extraneous political issues: ‘There’s a deal to be had right now’

Lightfoot says union demanding that she sign on to a ‘flawed’ bill creating an elected school board and change the state labor law governing what issues the CTU can strike over.

SHARE Lightfoot says talks with CTU hung up on extraneous political issues: ‘There’s a deal to be had right now’
CPS CEO Janice Jackson and Mayor Lori Lightfoot are shown in October 2019 discussing the state of teacher contract talks.

CPS CEO Janice Jackson and Mayor Lori Lightfoot discuss the state of teacher contract talks at City Hall on Tuesday.

Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

An exhausted and exasperated Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday accused the Chicago Teachers Union of extending a teachers strike that has already dragged on for nine days over extraneous political issues that don’t belong at the bargaining table.

To prove her point that the CTU keeps “moving the goal posts,” Lightfoot said the union is demanding she support a “specific bill about an elected school board” that she has already rejected as unwieldy and fundamentally “flawed.”

The union is further demanding Lightfoot negotiate “over a change to the state labor law that governs what issues the union can strike over,” the mayor said.

Couple that with what Schools CEO Janice Jackson calls the CTU’s continued demand that the Chicago Public Schools “either cut 30 minutes off the school day or pull four full days of instruction off the calendar” and you have no end in sight for a teachers strike that’s already Chicago’s longest since 1987.

“Are we really keeping our kids out of class unless I agree to support the CTU’s full political agenda wholesale?” the mayor said, a scowl on her face and dark circles under her eyes.

“If the CTU wants a deal, there’s a deal to be had right now on the table. … It’s time to move forward towards a resolution and stop throwing more items at the wall at the 11th hour. Take yes for an answer, CTU. This is a deal of historic proportions. … We have met them on every issue that they’ve told us was important to them. They should take this contract to the House of Delegates and get a vote so we can get our students back in class.”

The mayor defended her surprise decision to require CPS to reimburse the city for $60 million in pension contributions previously covered by City Hall and denied she could seal a deal by rescinding that as well as $33 million in school security costs.

“What we have been doing across the board with our sister agencies — and CPS is one of them — is making sure that, whatever the costs are that are their responsibility that they bear those costs,” Lightfoot said.

“We think that’s appropriate and fair. We don’t have any other kind of different arrangement with the CHA or the CTA. This is something that we think is important to move things forward. And really, it’s beside the point when it comes to the issue of the CTU.”

Lightfoot described as “fundamentally, patently false” CTU Vice-President Stacy Davis Gates’ claim that the city’s negotiating team had reached a tentative agreement with the union only to have the mayor nix the deal.

According to Lightfoot, there is no good-cop, bad cop routine or rift between the mayor and her negotiating team.

“We have tried to accommodate every single demand that they’ve had that’s within reason. There’s a great deal on the table. It’s half a billion dollars. It provides new supports for class sizes, for staffing, for homelessness, for sports. Every issue they’ve identified and said are the main issues,” the mayor said.

“What’s holding this up now is a set of political issues in an effort to try and cut instruction time, which we can never agree to. We cannot take steps back. And we’re not gonna incorporate non-core issues into a contract.”

Until now, Lightfoot has resisted the nuclear option of going to court to try and seek an injunction ending the strike.

Is she now so exasperated that she will ask a judge to end it?

“I don’t think — we’re not talking about that right now,” the mayor said.

Jackson argued that, in addition to the extraneous political issues like an elected board, the strike is being extended over the union’s demand to shorten the school day by 30 minutes, or reduce the instructional calendar by four days.

“There is no justifiable reason that kids should be prevented from going back into class tomorrow because we refuse to reduce the length of the school day or the length of the school year,” Jackson said.

“The CTU has in front of them a fair contract that both honors and respects them. They have the power to end this strike today. They have repeatedly told the public that their membership is looking for a clear win. This contract provides them with several wins. It is right in front of them.”

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey huddling with the City Council’s Hispanic Caucus behind closed glass doors on Tuesday.

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey huddling with the City Council’s Hispanic Caucus behind closed glass doors on Tuesday.

Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

After her news conference, Lightfoot held a 45-minute, face-to-face meeting with CTU President Jesse Sharkey that will determine whether Sharkey has an agreement to present to the House of Delegates.

“We made a pathway very clear. [But] we don’t have a deal right now. That’s where we stand,” Sharkey said after huddling with the City Council’s Hispanic Caucus.

“Our House of Delegates is coming in to meet at 6 o’clock. There’s time to get an agreement. We made a pathway clear to the mayor. If we get a response to that, which is something we can bring back to the House, then we’ll bring it to our members and recommend that we end the strike. If we don’t and I don’t have anything to bring back, then I’ll be making plans to continue the strike.”

Later, police detained 10 protesters from the CTU who had gathered and locked arms outside the entrance to Fulton West, 1330 W. Fulton, the building where developer Sterling Bay’s offices are located in the West Loop.

The protesters were arrested “at the request of Fulton West’s new management and ownership, not Sterling Bay,” according to a tweet from Sterling Bay.

Police surround CTU members protesting inside Sterling Bay’s headquarters.

Police surround CTU members protesting inside Sterling Bay’s headquarters on Tuesday.

Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

That site was chosen because, the union said in a news release, “schools need the resources that TIF-hungry developers like Sterling Bay get.”

The protesters had with them a letter they wanted to deliver to executives with the firm, but were blocked from entering the building by police.

The letter read, in part: “We call on you to renegotiate the Lincoln Yards TIF deal. ... Chicago’s children need $38 million far more than Sterling Bay.”

That was a reference to tax increment financing, a development tool through which the city uses money from the growth in property taxes in specific areas to offering subsidies to developers building there. It’s why the CTU earlier in the day also marched in protest at the site of Lincoln Yards, a huge project getting a $1.3 billion TIF.

“The problem is not a lack of resources, but a lack of political will on the part of the mayor to use TIF revenues to fund the public schools instead of wealthy mega corporations that do not need taxpayer dollars to fatten their already significant profit margins,” the union said in a news release.

Daysha Del Valle (center, black t-shirt), a senior at Crane Medical Prep High School, and other students held a news conference Tuesday at Healthy Hood, 2242 S. Damen Ave.

Daysha Del Valle (center, black t-shirt), a senior at Crane Medical Prep High School, and other students held a news conference Tuesday at Healthy Hood, 2242 S. Damen Ave.

Tom Schuba/Sun-Times

Earlier Tuesday, CTU vice president Stacy Davis Gates had tweeted:

“We have narrowed our differences. We have laid out a path to a settlement. We’re waiting to hear from the city this morning. This is an opportunity for the mayor to enter into an historic agreement to give Chicago’s students what they deserve.”

Meanwhile, at Healthy Hood fitness and dance studio, 2242 S. Damen Ave., some CPS students gathered to show support for their teachers — and demand a place alongside them at the bargaining table.

Among them was Daysha Del Valle, a senior at Crane Medical Prep High School, who critized Lightfoot for “putting more money into CPD than CPS.”

Del Valle also backed several CTU demands, including: a nurse, librarian and counselor at every school; smaller classes; and more prep time for teachers.

Contributing: Stefano Esposito, Mitch Dudek, Tom Schuba, David Struett

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