WebExtra: Teachers ratify 5-year contract

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On Sept. 10, teachers ratified the tentative contract agreement reached between the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public School officials in late August. Some 1,900 supplemental votes remained uncounted as of Sept. 11, but they were too few to change the outcome.

Results released by the union tallied 11,788 votes in favor of the pact and 8,941 against it.

“Our membership is unified,” said CTU President Marilyn Stewart during a press conference announcing the results. “We shouldn’t have to fight for the things we need. We tried to include something for everyone.”

In a controversial vote on Aug. 31, delegates of the Chicago Teachers Union cleared the way for the Sept. 10 membership vote.

Union officers had earlier agreed to a 5-year deal with the school board that features 4 percent annual raises and beefed up job protections. But details surfaced only after Stewart and her staff walked delegates through a 40-page document detailing proposed contract changes at the Aug. 31 meeting.

The document was not offered to the media, but Catalyst obtained a copy from one delegate who allowed it to be photocopied. (Click here to view it in PDF format.)

Among the contract changes highlighted by the CTU:

• Annual raises that compound to 20-percent pay hikes over the contract’s lifespan

• Additional salary steps for teachers: one at 14 years of experience that starts in year two of the agreement, another at 20 years of experience that starts in year four, and another at 25 years of experience that starts in year five. In the old contract, there were no longevity raises after 13 years.

• A salary hike of $1,750 for National Board certified teachers.

• A “wellness program” to help cap insurance costs through the contract’s first three years, with a potential increase in teacher costs the final two years.

• A one-year reduction in the amount of time new teachers spend on the tenure track; plus guarantees that probationary teachers be evaluated before layoffs.

Following nearly three hours of discussion and what some delegates described as a “fast, five-minute vote,” dozens of delegates stormed out of the meeting shouting anti-Stewart slogans such as, “She sold us out.”

Sullivan High Delegate Ila Wolen said Stewart asked delegates in favor of the contract to stand and, after a cursory count, announced a “50 plus one” majority of delegates had approved the contract. But the president never gave those in opposition a chance to stand and be counted, Wolen and others maintain.

In a press conference following the vote, with chants of “no, no, no” outside, Stewart said a legitimate vote was taken and that as many as 70% of the delegates had stood in support of the contract. She added that the “vocal minority” had left the meeting before a full vote could be taken.

“We didn’t get everything we wanted [from the district],” says Stewart. “But we got something for everyone in this contract.”

A chief criticism among delegates was the 5-year length of the contract — a top priority for the School Board, which recently secured longstanding deals with its other unions.

“If it’s an incomplete contract, we don’t want to wait 5 years to come back to the table and rectify it,” said Annette Robinson, a delegate at Bronzeville Scholastic. Members want a 3-year deal, she said.

Susan Lofton, a delegate from Steinmetz High, also opposes the contract length. But she says her “no vote” was cast the minute she read page 19 in the document of proposed contract changes. There, she found a cap to hourly wages for all after-school work and tutoring which she said could cost some teachers nearly $20 an hour.

On the other side, Lawrence Balark, a reading specialist and delegate at Moos Elementary, said that while the pay hikes could have been higher, he appreciates the contract’s overall quality. He likes the caps on health care costs and noted other gains, such as new protections for non-tenured teachers.

“I think they’ve done the best job they could to get the best deal for the teachers of Chicago,” says Balark.

Edie Smith, a delegate at Mason Elementary, agreed. She said delegates who oppose the total package are playing politics and “nitpicking” at a time when the union needs to show solidarity.

Stewart faced a delicate political situation as she tried to convince teachers to accept the deal, having promised a major upgrade to the 4-year contract negotiated by her predecessor, Deborah Lynch, in 2003.

Teachers sent Lynch back to the negotiating table after her team announced a tentative 5-year deal in 2003; it, too, had 4 percent annual raises but did shift some health care costs to teachers. Teachers narrowly accepted a revised deal and then voted Lynch out of office in 2004.

District officials suffered one glaring defeat: the length of the school day and year remains one of the shortest in the nation.

Mayor Richard M. Daley spent much of the summer drumming up support for extra learning time, but the school district’s demands for a 45-minute increase in daily instruction never materialized.

Stewart voiced support for a longer day as long as teachers were adequately compensated. But statewide funding reform for education failed this year, likely dooming Daley’s efforts.

Click here to download a PDF detailing all contract changes.