Union: No Deal To Avoid Strike, Teachers Will Hit Picket Lines
CHICAGO (CBS) – Chicago Public Schools teachers were preparing to go on strike for the fist time in a quarter century on Monday, after the latest contract talks broke down Sunday with no deal to avert a walkout.
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said late Sunday there had been some progress in contract talks, but “we have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike.”
The impasse set the stage for the city’s first teachers’ strike since 1987. The union had set a midnight deadline for a walkout.
“We are committed to staying at the table until a contract is in place. However, in the morning, no CTU members will be inside our schools. We will walk the picket lines, we will talk to parents, we will talk to clergy, we will demand a fair contract today, we demand a fair contract now,” Lewis added. “Until there’s one in place, that our members will accept, we will be on the line.”
Late Sunday night, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he was “disappointed” in the union’s decision to continue with a strike.
“I am disappointed that we have come to this point,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said late Sunday. “Because of how close we are, it is a strike that is unnecessary.”
“Our kids, the kids of Chicago, belong in the classroom,” he added.
A short time before Lewis’ announcement, Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale said talks had ended for the night, after more than 20 offers from the district to the Chicago Teachers Union over the past week.
“We assume that we’re basically done today, from our standpoint,” Vitale said, adding that he’d repeatedly tried to reach Lewis after talks broke down, with no success.
Vitale said he believes Chicago Public Schools officials have made their best possible offer to teachers.
“There’s only so much money in the system. There’s only so many things that we can do that are available to us,” Vitale said. “At this juncture, it is clearly their decision. … We’ve done everything we can.”
Vitale said the district’s latest offer included a 3 percent raise for teachers in the first year, then 2 percent raises in each of the next three years of the proposed deal.
Vitale said the district’s offer would also allow teachers who lose their current positions from school consolidations to follow their students to the consolidated school, “to the extent that positions are available.”
In the case of teachers whose positions are eliminated to a school closing, they could either choose to take three months of severance, or take five months to apply for other CPS teaching positions, and be given preference for interviews with CPS principals.
For teachers that lose their positions for other reasons, those teachers would have recall rights for one year, for the same unit and position.
Lewis said the two sides were close to agreement on a contract, but not close enough.
“We are not far apart on compensation, however we are apart on benefits,” Lewis said. “We want to maintain the existing health benefits.”
Lewis said the union is also concerned that a proposed new teacher evaluation system “could result in almost 6,000 teachers – or nearly 30 percent of our membership – being discharged within one or two years. This is unacceptable and leads to instability for our students.”
She said the new evaluation system would rely too much on students’ standardized test scores.
“This is no way to measure teacher effectiveness at all,” she said.
CPS had already put in place a contingency plan for the strike. The district was prepared to open 144 school sites for various activities, and so that children can eat lunch and breakfast in a district where most of the 402,000 students qualify for free meals, because they are from low-income families. The sites will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. each day of a strike.
The union has been prepping its members all weekend to get ready for the picket lines. The union’s strike headquarters on the Near West Side was a hub of activity on Saturday and Sunday.
Union members handed out picket signs, stickers reading “Yes To Education Justice,” and red CTU T-shirts to hundreds of teachers Sunday morning at Teamster City union hall at 1642 W. Van Buren St.
By 5:30 p.m. Sunday, they had run out of T-shirts and closed up shop for the night, although there were still plenty of signs to pass out to teachers and their supporters if and when they hit the picket lines Monday morning. If it does, teachers have been asked to show up at their schools at 6:30 a.m. Monday to picket.
The union also planned a 3:30 p.m. rally on Monday outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters, at 125 S. Clark St., in case of a strike.
Principals and administrators have been prepping their schools and stocking up on supplies in case of a strike. Non-union CPS staffers will be supervising at the so-called “Children First” sites.
Dr. Tatia Beckwith, principal of William H. Ray Elementary School, said, in the event of a strike, each school open for activities is not to have more than 25 children per adult.
“We’ll have activity leaders that will take them to different rooms in the school, for different activities,” she said. “We will have art supplies. We have plenty of books for reading. We have some videos. We have centers set up in the rooms, for different kinds of play – a lot of board games, cards, those types of things.”
Many of the city’s aldermen were urging teachers to remain in the classroom, and not go on strike, even if a deal isn’t reached by midnight.
A group of 33 aldermen has sent Lewis a letter, pointing out a strike would harm more than 350,000 public school students.
It reads, in part, “Though we fully support your collective bargaining rights, we urge you not to put our children at such a tremendous disadvantage. … Please allow the teachers to stay in the classroom during the remainder of the negotiations.”
If there is a strike on Monday, the walkout would deny classroom instruction to approximately 357,000 students across the city and place about 30,000 teachers on picket lines. While there are about 402,000 students in the CPS system, approximately 45,000 of those attend charter schools — where teachers are not union members, and would not join a strike by CTU.
CPS has planned for a strike and will open some buildings to students to give them activities to do. Lewis has said parents should make alternate plans, because the school sites under the CPS contingency plan would not be staffed by enough workers with experience overseeing children.
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