CTU files unfair labor practice complaint, seeks mediation

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The CTU says CPS is not bargaining in good faith and plans a public organizing campaign around contract talks.

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The CTU says CPS is not bargaining in good faith and plans a public organizing campaign around contract talks.

Just a day after revealing that CPS has asked for 7-percent pay cuts, the Chicago Teachers Union filed an unfair labor practice charge against the district and has indicated it will step up a public organizing campaign around contract negotiations.

The CTU is accusing the Board of Education of bargaining in bad faith and is seeking formal mediation, according to the charge filed with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board.

In a statement issued late Wednesday, CPS Interim CEO Jesse Ruiz said the district had not yet reviewed the complaint and was unable to comment specifically on its content. Ruiz repeated the district’s position that it faces a $1.1 billion budget deficit and said he wanted to work with teachers to lobby Springfield “to increase state funding for education and reform a broken system that forces Chicago residents to pay twice for teacher pensions.”

The union’s charge says the district has refused at least three formal requests for mediation “despite the lengthy period of bargaining and lack of agreement on any substantive matters.” Bargaining teams have been meeting regularly since November, although union officials say conversations over the first several months were focused on more technical matters. The union presented its first contract proposals in late March.

During a press conference after its monthly House of Delegates meeting at the International Union of Operating Engineers building near Chinatown, CTU President Karen Lewis said the “board has rejected our education-based programs that have no cost.”

Lewis said it was too early to talk about a strike — as took place in 2012 — because there are still several other steps the union must go through before it gets to that point.

Union attorney Robert Bloch said formal mediation and fact-finding would have to take place before any sort of strike vote, as per state law. “In 2012 we agreed that mediation would begin Feb. 1 and formal fact-finding would begin by April 1 if we didn’t have a deal,” he said. “The statute requires that we go through a process when we’re negotiating a contract, but CPS won’t agree on anything.”

Later in the evening, at an event for Harvard University alumni in downtown Chicago, Board President David Vitale told a reporter he hadn’t seen the unfair labor chargebut described contract negotiations as productive. Asked whether he was worried about another strike, Vitale said: “Always.”

Stepping up public pressure

During the CTU press conference, union leaders explained the unusual way they learned the district was asking for 7 percent pay cuts from teachers. The  demand came in the form of comment bubbles in a Word document that contained the union’s own contract proposals, said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey.

Under the section of the contract proposal titled “Pension Pick Up,” somebody on the CPS bargaining team apparently wrote: “The Board has run out of options. It proposes to eliminate pension pick-up going forward and to make teachers and PSRPs [paraprofessionals] responsible for the payment of the entirety of the employee’s portion of the pick-up.”

The union received the Word document at least a week ago but only made the details public this week. Sharkey said the union follows a process to inform members of contract negotiations before going to the public.

CPS “picks up” 7 percent of the 9 percent salary contribution teachers make to their pensions, part of a contract deal signed in the early 1980s. The district also pays 7 percent of the 8.5 percent employee contribution for non-teacher employees. This year the district budgeted  about $174 million for those pension costs.

Lewis said the union “will do whatever we have to to stop this.” Delegates at the meeting indicated that the union is now shifting its attention to internal and community organizing efforts to raise energy around contract negotiations and setting the groundwork for a possible strike in September or October.

Asked whether the union was telling members to start saving money for a potential strike, Sharkey said, “We’re telling our rank-and-file to get ready for a fight. We’re not scared of a fight.”

The union is sponsoring three “community contract forums” in the next month to “discuss aspects of the negotiations that will impact students, families, communities and educators alike,” according to a flier given to delegates. The first such meeting, sponsored by the group Parents 4 Teachers, takes place May 19 in Lincoln Square. The Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, known as KOCO, and Blocks Together are sponsoring other forums.

In addition, the union is planning a downtown “rally for a fair contract” on June 9. During the 2012 contract negotiations, thousands of teachers hit the streets in May for a major rally that energized many for the seven-day strike that took place later that fall.

The union is also hosting trainings for “contract action teams” across the city starting this weekend at Amundsen High School. The union wants to set up teams in each school building.

Rejected proposals

The union has not yet submitted any proposals regarding salary, although Sharkey said a proposal asking for salary increases is coming. “We’re going to make a very reasonable salary increase offer. Obviously cost of living goes up. It’s expensive to live in the city,” he said.

A CTU contract bulletin distributed to delegates on Wednesday indicates the district has rejected a number of CTU proposals, including:

  • A library for every school;
  • Allowing teachers to bank sick days;
  • Limiting compliance paperwork to a level that can be completed during teacher prep time designated as principal-directed;
  • Hiring restorative justice coordinators;
  • Parental leave for four weeks.

In addition, the bulletin indicates the board “refuses to even bargain” over proposals, including:

  • Limiting standardized testing;
  • $15 minimum wage for all CPS and subcontracted employees;
  • A moratorium on school closings, turnarounds and reconstitutions;
  • Removing police presence in school where no written plan mandates their presence.