Determined to control the bargaining clock and “call the question” on what could be the second walkout since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office, the Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates on Wednesday set a strike date of Oct. 11.
“If we cannot reach the agreement by then, we will withhold our labor,” CTU President Karen Lewis said at a news conference, surrounded by dozens of members. “It’s time to move this along. We’ve gone over an entire year without a contract, we want to call the
CTU’s full membership overwhelmingly voted last week in favor of a strike to pressure the Board of Education. Delegates took a voice vote so loud Wednesday it could be heard from outside the special meeting.
They also had considered other dates after the Jewish holy day Yom Kippur — Oct. 13 and Oct. 17 — but ultimately stuck with Oct. 11.
That’s the first school day after a required 10-days notice the CTU must give before striking.
Their contract expired on June 30, 2015; negotiations had started months before that.
“We finally said we’re not going to play around anymore, we’re not going to be strung along anymore, and people felt a sense of relief,” Lewis said.
But Lewis had this to say to parents concerned about a possible strike — the second in four years — and its effects on their children.
“What I want [parents] to know is that come Oct. 11, hopefully they’re in school because that’s where we’d rather be,” she said, urging parents to put pressure on the mayor and the Chicago Board of Education.
CPS agreed that the timeline is workable.
“To make sure children’s academic progress isn’t interrupted, CPS will work tirelessly at the bargaining table,” district spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in an email. “A strike is a very serious step that affects the lives of thousands of parents and children, and we hope that in the coming days, the CTU’s leadership works in good faith at the bargaining table to reach a fair deal for teachers and students.”
The Board and union have stepped up negotiations to three days this week. Unlike in January, when a Board offer was accepted by the union’s leadership before getting nixed by its 40-member big bargaining team, talks have not yet extended to nights and weekends.
Asked whether the two sides were close, Lewis said: “I don’t know what ‘close’ means anymore. On some things yes, on some things no.”
The Board of Education has proposed a four-year deal that asks teachers to give back a 7 percent pension contribution over two years in exchange for a raise by the end of the contract. It also has offered several quality of life improvements such as more freedom
in grading and better wraparound supports at community schools, but it is asking teachers to pay more for their health insurance.
Neither side would specify what’s holding up a final deal.
The union repeated on Wednesday that it won’t support cuts to its members’ pay, nor will it stand for more cuts to schools, which have already lost librarians and other staffers in recent years. CPS stopped paying raises last year for continued experience and education known as steps and lanes.
Nettelhorst first grade teacher Michelle Gunderson said that halt has cost her North Side school many veteran teachers, who’ve taken better jobs elsewhere. She said working a second year without a contract “is no way to run a school system.”
Frustration prompted her and other teachers to roar past a 75 percent threshold last week that’s required by the state to legally walk out.
The overwhelming results sparked board members on Wednesday to approve a $15 million contingency plan for students in case the teachers walk out.
As the board did in 2012 when teachers took to picket lines for seven school days, it plans to partner with the Chicago Park District and others to make sure the 300,000 affected students would have somewhere to go during the day as well as the breakfast and lunch many count on at school.
CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said earlier Wednesday he knew the strike was weighing on families.
“This action is disappointing because negotiations are ongoing, and I truly believe that a strike can be averted,” Claypool said to everyone crowded into Board chambers. “A strike would harm the children we are all here to serve . . . and it would create an enormous burden for CPS families.”
But CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said “this is in the mayor’s power to solve. This is the mayor’s problem.”
Sharkey said Emanuel should tap surplus millions from tax-increment financing districts to fund schools this year. A particular measure to do that has been proposed to the City Council, but it languishes in committee.