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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 has already voted to authorize a strike. But to get from here to there the union has to clear certain legal hurdles.
A so-called 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.
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 also 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 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.
What’s the real snag in talks?
What isn’t? The union isn’t thrilled about proposals for its members to pick up 7 percent 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.
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 saw 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.
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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