DOWNTOWN — The teachers' union threatened to strike Monday if Chicago Public Schools drops a so-called pension pickup payment, but the district said it plans to go ahead with that plan.
Addressing CPS' announcement Monday that the district will cut 62 positions, 17 of them teachers, Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey went on to say that if the district cuts the 7 percent pension payment it makes for teachers, that would break their existing contract and set the stage for an immediate strike.
According to Sharkey, that would be an unfair labor practice that would break the existing pact, as the two sides continue to negotiate for a new agreement, and free the union's hands to stage an immediate walkout.
CPS, however, wasn't backing down.
"To keep our school doors open, CPS exercised its right under the contract to eliminate the pension pickup and gave the required 30-day notice to the CTU on Feb. 2," said CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner. "Once we reach the 30-day mark, we will work administratively to determine the first paycheck that will not include the pension pickup."
Sharkey said teachers had noted that threat, but hadn't yet seen it affect paychecks. He maintained that the pension pickup was negotiated in previous agreements, and that halting it, thus forcing the teachers to pay it, would constitute a 7-percent cut in take-home pay.
Bittner responded that the union had just rejected an offer some union leaders had found sound.
"CPS and CTU leadership reached an agreement on a contract after months of hard negotiations, and that tentative agreement would have phased out the pension pickup and provided an average raise of 13.5 percent in the meantime," she insisted. "Our preference is to reach a fair agreement that is in the best interest of our teachers, our students and our city."
Yet Sharkey said halting the pension pickup would break the standing contract as they continue to negotiate a new deal.
Bittner and CPS countered that, saying it would go before the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, which has already ruled once against a union complaint of unfair labor practices.
As it stands, both sides agree, the union can't strike until a fact-finding process is completed in ongoing negotiations, making a strike possible in late May at the earliest.
Yet the union maintains that halting the pension pickup would violate that status quo, and clear the way for an immediate strike — if the labor board agrees.
Both sides seemed set on brinksmanship Monday and not prepared to back down — although it's CPS that must take the first step in taking the 7 percent deduction from teacher paychecks.
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