The Chicago Teachers Union and CPS officials will head back to the bargaining table this Thursday, with both sides saying there is room to negotiate an agreement and avoid a teachers’ strike this spring.
CTU President Karen Lewis and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool both spoke to media just two days after an outside fact-finder issued a report that largely backed the district in its latest contract offer to teachers. That offer included a phase-out of the district’s teacher pension pick-up and increases to health care costs. The union quickly rejected the report on Saturday.
Lewis says the union won’t settle on a contract unless its economic demands are met, along with its requests to limit class sizes and stop the opening of any new charter schools.
“We’re going to try to tweak this a little bit better,” Lewis told reporters at a Monday press conference. “They still have an opportunity to come up with something that is addressing the issues that we have.”
It’s unclear whether the union will strike this school year — for one, they would risk losing the support of families eager for their teens to graduate from high school — or wait until the start of next school year. On Monday, Lewis said the union needed time to collect input from schools and parents before deciding if, and when, to call a strike.
The union must give the district a 10-day notice before teachers can walk out.
Meanwhile, Claypool said the district would work over the next month to reach an agreement with the union, as well as balance its budget for the coming school year — perhaps with more severe cuts — in the hopes of taking out a new line of credit to cover its bills. The district’s budget this year relied on nearly a half-billion dollars in funding from Springfield that never came through.
Not surprising, CPS officials said they accepted fact-finder Steven Bierig’s recommendations on wages and benefits, which mirrored the district’s January offer that was already shot down once by the union.
At the time, CPS proposed phasing out the pension pick-up over the first two years of a four-year contract and increasing health care costs, which officials said would be cancelled out with modest pay increases ranging from 1 to 3 percent over the next four years. In addition, the district would pay the steps-and-lanes salary increases — routine increases based on experience and education — during the last three years of the contract, but not in the current year.
CTU leaders considered the offer serious enough to take to its big bargaining team, which unanimously rejected it, citing distrust in the district and stressing the need for sustainable revenue sources. In fact, last month the district said it could no longer afford the January offer, although Claypool has since said he’d figure out a way to make it happen.
“My hope is that we can quickly reach an agreement so that we can stand together against Springfield and demand our fair share,” he said on Monday.
Bierig’s report calls the January offer “the most reasonable approach to an extremely difficult situation… I find that by incorporating [that offer] into their contract, the parties will have a fighting chance to experience a significant period of labor peace during which they can combine forces to resolve the larger problems facing them.”
Click here to see our interactive timeline of the key progress — and setbacks — in contract negotiations between the CTU and district. Educators have been working without a contract since July.
Catalyst intern Caroline Spiezio contributed to this report.