The Chicago Teachers Union on Saturday rejected contract terms recommended by a neutral fact finder, moving the union one step closer to a possible strike that could occur before the school year ends.
"The clock has started," CTU President Karen Lewis said in a statement. "CPS [Chicago Public Schools] has created this fiscal mess and refuses to go over hundreds of millions of dollars in existing revenue that is already out there. Our wacked out governor isn't helping. Hand-in-hand, both will wind up hurting our members and our students in the long-run. We have no choice to prepare ourselves for a possible strike."
CTU and CPS have been at odds over a new contract to replace the one that expired on June 30.
In its report, the neutral fact-finder recommended contract terms previously offered by CPS in January. The CTU's Big Bargaining Team later shot down the district's four-year contract offer, which sought to phase out the district's pension pickup for teachers and increase health care costs for union members. The proposal also called for slight increases in compensation for educators, among other provisions. According to the district, teachers would see an average raise of 13.5 percent over the life of the contract.
Now that the fact-finder's report has been released, there is a 30-day period before the union could strike. A strike could happen as early as May 16. CTU's membership already voted to authorize a strike back in December.
"We have to talk to our people. We don't know if we are going to force the school year to a close now or strike when the next school year begins," Lewis added. "Either way, we won't be held hostage by the board's zombie budgets. They need to go after the banks, TIF [tax increment financing] funds, and other forms of short- and long-term revenue that is sitting right in front of us. If they are serious about helping our students and preserving public education in our city then they will do everything they can to stabilize our schools---and that does not mean hurting teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians over and over again."
For its part, CPS accepted the fact-finder's recommendations Saturday.
"Rather than start the clock for a strike that would cost our children precious days of school at the end of the year, I would urge that the CTU uses the remaining time on the clock to join us and concentrate on reaching a final deal so that Chicago's children can continue their extraordinary academic progress," CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said in a statement.
Claypool went on to say that he hopes "CTU leadership will reconsider their outright and premature rejection of this recommendation by the impartial fact finder" and "give their members an opportunity to read the fact-finder's report, and come to their own conclusions about the best path forward."
"My hope is that we can quickly reach an agreement so that we can stand united in demanding our fair share of funding from Springfield," Claypool continued. "In coming months, I worry about CPS' deteriorating finances. Already this year, we had to cut school budgets to preserve cash to make our upcoming state-mandated pension payment of nearly $700 million dollars to the teachers' pension fund. Already this year, we've seen the bond markets demand punishing interest rates after the CTU's Big Bargaining Team rejected the tentative agreement and Governor Rauner cheered for bankruptcy. Without an agreement and without fair funding from Springfield, CPS will continue to face tough choices, like larger class sizes, fewer teachers, outdated textbooks and crumbling buildings."
CTU representatives are expected to hold a news conference Monday to provided additional information on the union's rejection of the fact-finder's report. Check back with Progress Illinois as this story develops.
UPDATE (5:32 p.m.): CTU President Karen Lewis told reporters Monday that the current probability for a teachers strike is "100 percent." But that could change depending on how contract negotiations shake out.
"They want to stand on us, put their boots on our necks and then tell us we have to like it," Lewis said.
Speaking about the CPS-backed contract terms being recommended by the fact-finder, Lewis added, "We cannot accept a situation when our standard of living is lower by the end of a multiyear contract than at the beginning."
CPS CEO Forrest Claypool today described the cash-strapped district's contract proposal as "generous," and he urged the "CTU to use the remaining time we have to concentrate on reaching a final deal."
"It's sort of an Alice in Wonderland world within the CTU these days," Claypool added, "and I do not understand it."