CTU, CPS spar over fact-finder, teacher raises

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Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, flanked by CTU officers, speaks at a press briefing Monday.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, flanked by CTU officers, speaks at a press briefing Monday.

At a press briefing Monday, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis accused CPS of improperly leaking the results of a fact-finding report to the press.

Though Lewis disputed a published report that said the union had already decided to reject the proposed settlement, she left the door open for that—a move that would put the union a step closer to a possible strike—by saying that teachers are fighting for more than money.

“We are also fighting for resources and social services for our underserved students,” Lewis said.  That includes, she added, “wraparound services for our students who are facing unprecedented levels of neighborhood violence.”

The published report also said that the district had rejected the fact-finding report.

Saying the CTU needed to clarify the facts, Lewis spelled out the report’s recommended teacher raises:

  • A 12.6 percent raise to account for his finding that teachers will be working a 19.6 percent longer day and year. The union had asked for almost 30 percent, while the district has budgeted for just 2 percent.

  • An additional 2.25 percent cost-of-living raise.

  • Step and lane increases. The district wants to scrap these raises based on seniority and education in favor of a merit pay program, which the union opposes.

Lewis said the union would not make a final decision on the report until discussing it with members at Wednesday’s special House of Delegates meeting, slated for 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at Plumbers Hall, 1340 W. Washington Blvd. It is not open to the public. The report will not be released to the public unless either side formally rejects it.

The union’s ability to use its strike vote as leverage in contract negotiations is at stake, since under state law, the union cannot strike unless it formally rejects the report. State law also stipulates that a strike cannot happen until 30 days after the report is released.

Lewis praised the arbitrator, lawyer Edwin Benn, for his ruling and said it showed he believed teachers deserved “fair pay for a fair day’s work.”

“We commend Arbitrator Benn for his careful consideration of the data,” Lewis said. “Frankly, he had a thankless task.”

CPS appears ready to reject the report—something it is virtually forced to do, since the district has repeatedly stated that it cannot afford a hefty raise. By law, the fact-finder was to consider the district’s financial state, among other factors, in issuing its report.

“Our goal is to have a contract that is fair to our teachers, students and taxpayers. We are operating under the most dire financial situation CPS has ever faced, so any contract proposals made by the fact finder or at the negotiation table with the CTU must be grounded in the fiscal reality CPS faces today,” CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said in a statement. “Asking taxpayers to fund a $330 million price tag in year one alone of this contract ignores the gravity of the financial crisis facing the District and would have devastating impacts on our school communities.”

Lewis said she hoped CPS would follow the fact-finder’s lead in determining how much of a raise to give teachers, noting that the district “has publicly stated for months that the fact-finder should decide our raises” and pointing to CEO Jean-Claude Brizard’s June 5 letter to teachers stating that “teachers deserve a raise and will receive one that is fair. How much that raise should be is in the hands of an independent fact-finder.”

“These are his words, this is their process, and these are their results,” Lewis said.

By law, the fact-finding panel was required to consider the cost of living; “the interests and welfare” of students and families; how CPS wages compare to those in the 10 largest urban districts in the U.S.; the district’s financial ability to fund the raises without draining its reserve funds, borrowing money, or getting new revenue from the state; and the impact the raises would have on the district’s ability to educate students.

The panel was composed of chief fact-finder Edwin H. Benn, an arbitrator; CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey; and CPS Deputy General Counsel Joseph Moriarty.