Looks Like the Strike Is On
By Jim Vail
The last CTU teachers strike was in 2012.
The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) delegates voted on Wednesday to hold another strike vote in the schools the third week of September and from there plan to go on strike the beginning of October.
“We are not willing to go another month without a fair resolution of our contract,” CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey told the House of Delegates (HOD) this week.
CTU President Karen Lewis told the media after the delegates meeting that she expects an even higher vote in favor of striking. The union said the vote is a formality to make sure everything is ready now that a hostile anti-union Republican governor is doing everything he can to make sure a strike will not happen.
Why will there be a strike?
“We want no cuts,” Lewis told reporters when asked the question.
The union says that the board wants to cut teachers’ pay by eliminating the 7% pension pickup over four years and doubling the costs of health care. This comes after the teachers have given up almost $2 billion in pay from teacher layoffs, furlough days, elimination of pay raises, and pension holidays, the CTU says.
While the mayor tells the public he has given the teachers a generous raise, the teachers see otherwise. The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) claim that they are offering raises over the four-year period in which the teachers will see a pay increase at the end of the proposed four-year contract.
“It’s a pay cut,” Lewis said. “They will double our health care costs and take away our 7 percent pension payment over four years.”
One reporter asked the union if a strike would not reverse the improvements the schools have made with increased graduation rates. The union said it should then reward teachers, not continue to demand cuts.
The teachers have mentioned that due to school cuts, some classes have over 40 students, while the normal class size is 20 in most suburban districts (the school where I teach has 41 students in the 8th grade class). At the heart of the debate is money. While the city claims it is broke, the facts show otherwise.
The CTU is demanding that they pass an ordinance in the City Council to release a surplus of roughly $300 million in Tax Increment Financing (TIF), money that critics claim goes to subsidize wealthy developers at the expense of the schools.
“Our message to the parents is to call their aldermen and support the TIF ordinance to release the surplus funds,” Lewis said. “There is 24 percent more money in the TIFs, and CPS wants to cut 20 percent from the schools.”
There are currently over 30 aldermen who support the TIF surplus ordinance. However, Ald. Ed Burke has the power to bury the proposal in the city finance committee if he does not call hearings on it. While CPS chief Forrest Claypool claims he has cut central office, and had to lay off 1,000 teachers last month, a report in Substance News stated that the number of people working in the network offices that police the schools has doubled.
“Just one small example can be seen in the claim that the total number of people working in the school system’s so-called “Networks” is 160,” Substance editor George Schmidt wrote. “That number was in front of all the Board members in a pie chart in their budget. The actual number of people working in the “Networks” (which are basically sub districts) is more than 400, but what does a simple math error matter to those appointed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to rule over the city’s more than 600 public and charter schools?”
Sarah Karp, a former journalist with Catalyst education magazine who broke the SUPES contract scandal that forced the former CPS chief to plead guilty to bribery, said that it is impossible to read the CPS budget. The union has argued that there are many sources of revenue, including retrieving the extra TIF money, implementing taxes on businesses and hotels and suing the banks that have profited off financial shenanigans that have cost the city millions.
The teachers will vote to authorize a strike on Sept. 21, 22 and 23 in the schools. The delegates then need to call a meeting to officially call a strike and the union must serve a 10-day notice before going out on strike.
“There’s never a good time to strike and there’s never a bad time to strike,” Lewis said. “We will listen to what our members have to say.”
The mayor has complained that the union is not bargaining in good faith behind closed doors. Lewis told reporters that she thinks negotiations should be public.
The CTU said at the HOD meeting that the board has made no new offers since last March.