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Chicago Teachers Prepare To Strike As Deadline Looms

By Ted Cox | October 10, 2016 8:58am
 CTU President Karen Lewis said Monday that CPS wants to
CTU President Karen Lewis said Monday that CPS wants to "have their cake and eat it too." 
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DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin

RAVENSWOOD — As parents gathered for a protest in Mayor Rahm Emanuel's neighborhood Monday morning, urging him to avert a strike by finding new funding for schools, the Chicago Teachers Union was preparing for a long day of negotiations with CPS. 

The union released a statement Monday morning saying that a last-ditch bargaining session with Chicago Public Schools would begin at noon and is "expected to go late into the evening."

The union added, "It is still too early to tell whether or not a strike can be avoided. While labor and school leaders continue to negotiate with the Board of Education, teachers say they must be prepared to walk if negotiations do not garner a fair contract."

Union President Karen Lewis said that teachers would declare a strike "if we can't make headway by Monday night."

On Friday, the union said that its members will not accept any cuts in pay or benefits in the contract being negotiated ahead of a possible strike Tuesday.

"We want no cuts to our pay and benefits," Lewis said at a news conference at its headquarters in the Merchandise Mart.

At the same time, Lewis set a clear price tag of $200 million to avoid a strike, saying that would provide "everything we need to fund schools so that they work well."

Without expressing optimism that a deal will be reached ahead of a strike, Lewis did grant that there was "movement" in talks between Chicago Public Schools and union negotiators. If there isn't a deal reached Monday, the strike will begin at 6 a.m. Tuesday with teachers on the picket line at schools.

The union said it would be distributing strike materials to its more than 28,000 members, including teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians, Monday afternoon.

"There's always movement," she said. "I think people are listening.

"We're throwing out ideas about how to land this," Lewis added.

Vice President Jesse Sharkey said Friday the union is "bargaining every day," and that talks would continue through the weekend. As of Monday morning, however, no deal had been made.

Emanuel also set an 11 a.m. Tuesday City Council meeting to release his 2017 budget proposal, but the Mayor's Press Office would not comment on whether that was to be taken as a sign that a deal will be reached.

"That budget address was already scheduled, so I don't know that has an impact," said Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd).

Nonetheless, union leaders said teachers will "make our presence felt" with protests at the City Council budget address if a strike is called.

Parents 4 Teachers led a march of CPS parents near Emanuel's Ravenswood home Monday morning to demand he consider releasing $200 million in tax increment financing funds to help seal a deal.

With schools closed Monday for Columbus Day, Lewis said the union would call a strike "if we can't make headway by Monday night" in order to give parents notice of whether they can expect teachers in school Tuesday. She said the two sides are "talking about TIF money and wherever else we can get money from."

The union has said the city could give an additional $200 million in funding for Chicago Public Schools, or about $500 per pupil.

Lewis said the union already has accepted more than $2 billion in cuts in recent years.

"Enough is enough," she added.

According to Sharkey, those cuts include a loss of 1.5 percent in pay instituted midway through the last school year; the loss of "steps and lanes" increases; "literally thousands of layoffs;" the rescinding of a 4.5 percent raise in 2011 compounded since and $1.2 billion diverted from pensions during CPS "pension holidays," for a total of $2.2 billion.

The union has expanded the debate, insisting it's not just about compensation, but about Emanuel drawing on additional revenue to show a commitment to public education and halt cuts in school budgets. It brought in former Dyett High School hunger striker Jitu Brown, of the Journey for Justice Alliance, to emphasize that point at Friday's news conference.

"We're very clear that teacher conditions are children's learning conditions," Brown said. "This is not just about teachers and teacher pensions. This is about teachers fighting for good learning conditions for our young people."

The union voted by by 96 percent to strike this fall.

CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool insists CPS is offering "as generous a raise as possible" for teachers, though teachers have disputed that claim. Emanuel has called a strike "totally unnecessary" and urged teachers to accept an offer much like the one the union rejected last winter.

The union, however, has rejected any deal that includes an end to a 7 percent pension payment CPS has made for teachers since the '80s, stating that perk was hard-won then at the bargaining table, and making that payment now would constitute a 7 percent cut in pay.

A year ago, Lewis called that issue "strike-worthy."

The union stated in a release announcing Friday's news conference that it was pushing for "job security; no cuts to pay and benefits; adequate staffing levels; resources for students; and an additional $500 per pupil, or $200 million in new revenue for schools."

CPS could take a large step toward finding that money if Emanuel declared a $200 million surplus in citywide tax increment financing district funds

Aldermen, state legislators and CPS parents argued Friday that CPS could take a large step toward finding that money if Emanuel declared a $200 million surplus in citywide tax increment financing district funds.

"We need additional money right now to help avert a strike," said Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) in pushing that proposal.

Parents on Monday who support TIF funding for schools planned to take that message door to door in Emanuel's North Side neighborhood. 

"On the eve of a potential strike, Emanuel needs to hear that parents are behind the teachers and will hold the mayor accountable for a walk out," Parents 4 Teachers said in a news release. "Although Emanuel continues to insist CPS is broke and can't afford to fund the classroom improvements Chicago teachers want in their contract, an ordinance sponsored by 39 aldermen would provide new school funding that could avert a strike." 

Teachers have been working without a contract since the middle of last year. They last went on strike in 2012, although they also walked out on a "day of action" April 1.

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