Chicago Headed Toward First Teachers Strike in 25 Years
CTU files 10-day strike notice with labor board; strike date has not been set
CHICAGO – Today, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) filed a 10-day notice with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board indicating more than 26,000 public school teachers, clinicians and paraprofessionals may go on strike in coming days. The notice is a legal requirement defined by state law. No date for a strike has been set by Union leaders. The House of Delegates will meet Thursday at 4:30 p.m. to talk next steps.
Should CTU members call for a work stoppage, this will be the first “teachers’ strike” in Chicago since 1987. “This is a difficult decision for all of us to make,” said union President Karen Lewis. “But this is the only way to get the Board’s attention and show them we are serious about getting a fair contract which will give our students the resources they deserve.”
“CPS seems determined to have a toxic relationship with its employees,” Lewis said. “They denied us our 4 percent raises when there was money in the budget to honor our agreement; they attempted to ram a poorly thought out longer school day down our throats; and, on top of that they want us to teach a new curriculum and be ready to be evaluated based on how well our students do on a standardized test. It has been insult after insult after insult. Enough is enough.”
CTU has been in contract negotiations with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) since November 2011. Teachers have been without a contract since June of this year after its five-year agreement with the District expired without a new agreement in place. Labor leaders have said they are negotiating for a “better day, job security and fair compensation for employees.”
Labor talks have been productive on some fronts such as winning provisions for nursing mothers, ensuring textbooks will be available on day one, teachers will have access to functioning computers and counselors and social workers will have appropriate, private workspaces to serve students. But the bigger issues such as wages, job security and evaluations are on the table and the two sides remain far apart. “We will have a contract,” Lewis said, “and it will come the easy way or the hard way. If our members are on the picket-line, we will still be at the negotiating table trying to hammer out an equitable agreement. There’s a larger picture here.”
Teachers, paraprofessionals and school clinicians have been vocal in their opposition to CPS’ draconian policies. In May, nearly 10,000 of them marched in downtown in preparation for a strike authorization vote which drew a 98 percent approval from CTU membership. Only 1.82 percent of CTU members voted against authorizing a strike. Member angst was driven by CPS’ overly aggressive push for a longer school day without indicating how the District would staff and pay for the program. Educators were angry that the Board made no commitments to offering students the much needed art, music, physical education and world language classes they needed.
In July, and much to CPS’ chagrin, a much anticipated “Fact Finder’s Report” recommended, in part, that CPS’s longer school day amounts to a 19.4% increase on average that teachers will have to work, and he determined that CPS cannot expect its employees to work nearly 20% more for free or without fair compensation. Accordingly, the Fact-Finder’s report recommends both a general wage increase and an additional increase due to the length of the school day: A general wage increase of 2.25% for School Year 2012 — essentially a cost of living increase — without any changes to existing steps and lanes. He also recommends an additional increase of 12.6% to compensate teachers for working a longer school day and year representing a combined first-year increase of 14.85%, plus existing step and lane adjustments. Both the CTU and the Board rejected the findings.
“We have chronic underfunding and misplaced priorities in the system,” said high school teacher Jen Johnson. “CPS would rather shut down schools rather than give them the resources they need. Thousands of students have been displaced by CPS’ school actions. Teachers are losing their jobs and parents have no choice but to keep their child in an under-resourced neighborhood school or ship them off to a poor-performing charter operation.”
Lewis said members are also concerned about the Board’s plan to close over 100 neighborhood schools and create a half public-half charter school district. “This education crisis is real especially if you are Black or Brown in Chicago,” she explained. “Whenever our students perform well on tests, CPS moves the bar higher, tells them they are failures and blames their teachers. Now they want to privatize public education and further disrupt our neighborhoods. We’ve seen public housing shut down, public health clinics, public libraries and now public schools. There is an attack on public institutions, many of which serve, low-income and working-class families.”