CPS, CTU prepare for fact-finding in contract negotiation

April 16, 2012

CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union, which had previously been in mediation since early February, have appointed members of a three-person fact-finding panel – one of the final steps of a lengthy, legally required pre-strike process set out in Illinois law.

According to a document provided by the Chicago Teachers Union, CPS and the union have agreed to appoint the arbitrator Edwin H. Benn as one member of the panel.

Chicago Teachers Union spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin says that the CTU sent a letter requesting fact-finding on April 2 to CPS and the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board. However, CPS officials have not yet confirmed that plans for fact-finding are under way.

"It is unfortunate that the CTU is focusing their efforts outside the classroom with threats of a strike, rather than inside the classroom and focused on our children,” said Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Becky Carroll.

(NOTE: This article has been updated to reflect the most recent statements about who asked for fact-finding, and when it was requested.)

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey, who taught at Senn High School prior to being elected to union leadership, will represent the union on the panel, according to the document. Joseph Moriarty, the CPS deputy general counsel, will represent the district.

According to the CTU document, the process will begin May 1.

A strike cannot occur until after the fact-finding panel issues a report and publicizes both CTU and CPS’ most recent offers. The panel has a maximum of 75 days to do so. Once the report is issued, both parties have up to 15 days to reject the panel’s report. After that, the union is subject to a 30-day waiting period before it would be able to walk out.

Zulma Ortiz, a union member at Kennedy High School, says that no plans have been made so far to schedule a strike vote. However, Ortiz says, teachers are frustrated at what they see as a lack of respect from CPS—denying teachers their scheduled 4 percent raises this year; urging teachers to waive the contract and extend the school day at a small number of schools as part of a pilot program; and seeking to institute a merit pay system in its contract offer. That offer was for a 5-year contract with a 2 percent raise in the first year followed by a merit pay system.

“[Teachers] feel like they live in a Twilight Zone. They can't quite understand what is going on,” Ortiz says. “Do you know how long we work? Sometimes I am in school until 6 p.m. correcting papers, entering grades, meeting with students. Why are they treating us disrespectfully, like we are not important? One of the most important people society honors is educators.”

Robert Bruno, director of the University of Illinois’ pro-union Labor Education Program, co-authored a recent study that found most teachers’ work day is actually twice as long as the 5 hours and 45 minutes mandated in the union contract. 

Several other delegates reached by Catalyst Chicago have indicated that CTU may decide to hold a strike-authorization vote before the end of the current school year, in order to be able to include current members who are retiring.