Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Wednesday September 28th, 2016, 10:20pm

Chicago Teachers Union Sets October 11 Strike Date

The Chicago Teachers Union's governing body approved an October 11 strike date Wednesday, putting the union one step closer toward its second walkout since 2012. 

"If we cannot reach an agreement by then, we will withhold our labor," CTU President Karen Lewis told reporters Wednesday evening after a special meeting of the union's House of Delegates. 

CTU and school district officials have yet to agree on a new labor contract to replace the one that expired in June 2015.

On Monday, the union announced its membership had overwhelmingly authorized a strike. The union is required to give a 10-day notice before hitting the picket lines. 

Back in January, the district offered CTU a four-year contract deal, but it was shot down by the union's Big Bargaining Team. The contract proposal included pay hikes through cost-of-living adjustments and step and lane increases, according to CPS. But it also sought to phase out the district's pension pickup for teachers and increase health care costs for union members.

Economic-related issues remain the sticking points in the current negotiations, according to union officials. Lewis said the next contract negotiation session is Thursday. 

"We will continue to negotiate until we get to the point where we can't," Lewis said.

Maria Gandara is a special education teacher at Northside Learning Center High School, 3730 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.

"We have had lots of time going on without having a contract," she said. "It's time for us to stand up, withhold our labor and send a message to Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel, to [CPS] CEO [Forrest] Claypool, that this has to stop. Education must be a priority in the city of Chicago ... This is not only about our wages. This is about how the city views education and how it prioritizes education and the funding for it."

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said the union wants the city's tax increment financing (TIF) dollars used to help alleviate school budget cuts. The CTU supports a citywide TIF surplus ordinance introduced in July by Alds. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) and George Cardenas (12th). The proposal's supporters say it would provide CPS with an estimated $150 million in new revenue.

"This is in the mayor's power to solve," Sharkey said. "This is the mayor's problem. Right now we've been negotiating in good faith for 22 months. We've worked for 15 months without a contract and we're calling the question -- protect the schools, stop cutting them. And the mayor has the power to go into his slush fund, his TIF fund, and solve the problem."

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner released a statement in response to CTU setting an October 11 strike date. 

"What we can all agree on is that teachers deserve a raise, which is why we offered a contract with a healthy raise that was approved by an independent arbitrator," she said. "We believe a strike can be averted and to make sure children's academic progress isn't interrupted, CPS will work tirelessly at the bargaining table.

 "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."

CPS has prepared a $15 million contingency plan in the event that teachers strike. 

Lewis said parents should start preparing for a potential strike and join union members next Thursday during a nationwide action to "reclaim our schools." As part of the action, "walk-ins" will happen at public schools across the city.

"Come out early, walk with us into the building, meet us in the parking lot, speak to how important schools are, and that's what we'd like parents to do," Lewis said. 

Meanwhile, Chicago parents and community groups are ramping up their campaign in support of the TIF surplus ordinance.

TIF surplus supporters are canvassing Chicago's wards and asking residents to contact their aldermen about the ordinance, according to the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council.

Despite the fact that a majority of aldermen support the ordinance, it has not yet gone up for a vote. Aldermen have expressed concerns over losing TIF money for economic development projects in their wards.

CPS will, however, get some TIF funds this year, including $32 million for its budget and $54 million for capital projects, according to the district. 

When asked about the TIF surplus ordinance, CPS officials have questioned the claim that $150 million in additional TIF funds is available for the district. Chicago Board of Education President Frank Clark has also stressed that TIF surplus funds are a "one-time" revenue source that won't fully address the district's budget issues.

Stay tuned. 

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