Lewis: CTU won’t renew contract for fourth year

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After a bitter strike in fall 2012, the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools reached agreement on a three-year contract, with an optional fourth year under the same terms “by mutual agreement.”

In a recent interview with Catalyst Chicago, CTU President Karen Lewis laughed when asked whether the union plans to terminate the contract in June 2015 rather than renewing it for another year. She indicated that she is pretty sure that teachers would not want to extend the contract.

Negotiations typically start long before a contract ends. Tensions are already heating up between the city and its public sector unions, including the CTU, because of the current pension funding crisis and the city’s push for financial concessions from union workers to help close the pension deficit.

Later, union Vice President Jesse Sharkey clarified that the union considers the language about renewing the agreement to be basically meaningless. He says it was added because CPS wanted a four-year contract and the union did not.

“If both sides wanted to do an extra year, we could. If both sides wanted to do an extra four years, we could,” Sharkey said. “But there’s a name for that, and it’s called bargaining a new contract. I think it’s extremely unlikely that our members are going to say, let’s just give us another year.”

He says the key issues on teachers’ minds include challenges with the new teacher evaluation system, the lack of resources for the longer school day, and a lack of substitute teachers to cover classes, which has led to some teachers missing their preparation time.

Bateman Elementary delegate Adam Geisler says he, too, expects the contract to end in June 2015.

“If I were to hazard a guess, I would say most teachers would prefer a stronger contract this time around, and so we probably will not go for the extension,” Geisler says, adding that class sizes, evaluations and job security are weighing on teachers’ minds.

“The shift to student-based budgeting this year has had a pretty extreme effect on how much leeway principals have in their budgets,” Geisler says. “Expensive teachers are feeling like they are not very secure, and they would like to see more protections in the contract.”

He adds: “It’s no secret CTU and the mayoral administration do not see eye-to-eye. CTU has certainly strategized around building its political influence, including the adoption of a resolution to begin an independent political organization, so I think that does factor in.”

Jay Rau, a delegate at Juarez High School, says he expects the same tensions could lead to another strike in fall 2015. And, he adds, the coming governor’s race will have an effect as well. If Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner is elected, teachers will likely not vote to re-open the contract given Rauner’s anti-union stance. But if Gov. Pat Quinn is re-elected, unions may feel more emboldened and take the risk of re-opening.