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Here's What We Know About a Potential Chicago Teachers Strike

By Ted Cox | February 2, 2016 6:39am | Updated on February 3, 2016 10:58am
 After the Chicago Teachers Union rejected a Chicago Public Schools contract offer Monday, another strike is possible.
After the Chicago Teachers Union rejected a Chicago Public Schools contract offer Monday, another strike is possible.
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DNAinfo/Michelle Gavin

RIVER NORTH — The Chicago Teachers Union rejected what even it called a "serious offer" from Chicago Public Schools for a new contract Monday. So the question is ... what now?

Union President Karen Lewis granted that "we'll have to" return to the bargaining table.

Isn't a strike threatened?

It is. In fact, the union membership already voted to authorize a strike. But to get from here to there the union has to clear certain legal hurdles.

Such as?

A fact-finding process began Monday. An independent appointee has 105 days to determine if the facts in negotiations merit a strike. If so, teachers are cleared to walk out.


Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey said Monday that May 23 would be the earliest strike date.

So there's still time to negotiate.

Maybe not. Claypool went ahead with announcing $100 million in midyear school budget cuts Tuesday, as well as halting the so-called 7 percent school pension pickup. Lewis called that an "act of war," and Sharkey said it could potentially violate labor law, thus allowing the union to go out on strike without waiting for the fact-finding process to be completed. Claypool countered that he didn't believe the district had broken the law.

If a strike comes in late May, isn't that near the end of the school year?

It is, and it could throw the school system into turmoil. See the late-season baseball strike in 1994, which resulted in the first cancelation of the World Series in 90 years. Then consider graduating students, especially seniors in high school. Sharkey has previously talked about delaying the strike until the start of the next school year in the fall. So everyone has options.

Hasn't CPS threatened layoffs before then?

It has. And CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool said last week his offer was meant to "prevent midyear teacher layoffs." But he went ahead with the cuts Tuesday.

The union has said that would create even more chaos, with lesson plans as well as class sizes potentially changing midyear.

Wasn't CPS borrowing money to avert that?

It was, but then CPS pulled a plan to sell bonds off the table last week over fears of perceived disinterest from the lending community. Mayor Rahm Emanuel was said to be in New York City Monday in an attempt to revive interest. Claypool said Tuesday the bond sale would proceed on Wednesday.

What's the real snag in talks?

What isn't? The union isn't thrilled about proposals for its members to pick up 7 percentage points of their 9 percent pension contributions. They call it a 7 percent cut in take-home pay, and Lewis has called that "strike-worthy." Teachers don't pay into Social Security — retirement income is all pension for them — and employers typically contribute 6.2 percent of an employee's pay for Social Security. CPS counters that it pays 9 percent as an employer in addition to the 7 percent pickup for a total of 16 percentage points of a teacher's 18 percent pension payment.

What else?

The union wants revenue increased, through tax increment financing funds, a proposed "financial tax" on trades at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group and just generally more taxes on "wealthy people." Teachers want to be treated with the same consideration as police and firefighters, who spurred a record property tax increase last year to pay for their past pension shortfalls. And they want to limit charter schools, which, given CPS' financial woes, they suggest create a "zero-sum game" in competition for funding with so-called neighborhood schools.

Hasn't the district met those demands?

In some ways, it has. Claypool insisted Monday that CPS is committed to an additional $200 million in revenue. It wants to stick to teacher raises for seniority and experience. He cites previous use of TIF money to pay for schools. He said the district "made the same offer on pensions that the city made to the Police and Fire departments." And he committed not only to a moratorium on additional charters, but to "push for alterations and revisions to the legislation that authorizes the Illinois Charter Commission," which has previously overruled the Chicago Board of Education on new charters.

Didn't that placate the union?

Uh, no. Lewis and her members who spoke at Monday's news conference at union headquarters in the Merchandise Mart all referred to a "lack of trust in CPS."

With what cause?

Well, CPS did rescind a scheduled 4 percent pay raise in 2011 by citing language in the contract that it simply couldn't pay for it. That led directly to the last teacher strike a year later. And it's certainly part of what Lewis referred to Monday as "weasel language" in previous contracts.

Anything else?

The union says CPS also wants 2,200 teacher retirements at the end of the school year. That doesn't exactly have teachers jumping up and down for an early recess.

Is there any hope?

Both sides said they'd be returning to the bargaining table, Claypool said for "round-the-clock" talks. So we'll see.

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