Faced with a school system in an economic freefall, an extremist governor fighting to destroy Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the Illinois educational labor law that has tied his hands, neutral fact finder Steven Bierig today recommended that the parties reconsider an old CPS contract offer that has already been unanimously rejected by the Chicago Teachers Union’s (CTU) bargaining team. This is the same contract offer that even CPS now claims it can no longer afford due to its broke on purpose fiscal policies that have led to zombie budgets decimating public schools. The Union immediately served its Notice of Rejection under Section 12(a-10)(5) of the Educational Labor Relations Act, which means the fact finder’s report is dead letter and the 30-day countdown for a possible strike under Section 13(b)(2.5) begins today.
“The clock has started,” said CTU President Karen Lewis, who also noted the Union will hold a formal press conference Monday with details to be announced later. “CPS has created this fiscal mess and refuses to go after hundreds of millions of dollars in existing revenue that is already out there. Our wacked out governor isn’t helping. Hand-in-hand, both will wind up hurting our members and our students in the long-run. We have no choice but to prepare ourselves for a possible strike.”
The previously-rejected contract proposal made by CPS on January 29 would result in teachers taking home less in earnings at the end of the proposed four-year contract than they earn today; and, educator take home pay would be less on June 30, 2019, than it was on July 1, 2014, when the last CPS raise occurred. The January 29 proposal also sought to freeze salary steps and lanes, which have been in effect for 50 consecutive years, and eliminate the 7 percent pension pickup, which has been in effect for 35 consecutive years.
Cutting educator compensation is not the answer to CPS’s extreme financial problems. The district desperately needs stable, sustainable and increasing revenue to finance its operations. Without it, the mayor’s handpicked Board of Education can’t afford any contract proposal, even its own. Mr. Bierig noted in his report that CPS now says it cannot afford its own January 29 proposal anymore. In his dissent to the neutral fact finder’s report, Union panel member Atty. Robert Bloch noted that “CPS finances have surpassed the danger zone and are now nearly at meltdown. We need revenue solutions to finance public education, not more cuts to the system, which has already been cut well past the bone and now threatens the vital organs.”
The fact finder released his report today, followed immediately by the CTU’s notice of rejection. Under the Educational Labor Act, the 30-day countdown for a possible strike begins, meaning the earliest public school educators could withhold their labor is May 16, about a month before the school year ends. The Union is not required to strike, but it has the right to strike at the conclusion of this 30-day period, provided it first serves upon CPS a 10-day notice of intent to strike. The Union’s membership has already authorized a strike; and, should one be necessary to secure a fair contract, the CTU House of Delegates will deliberate to set the date of the strike.
Lewis added, “We have to talk to our people. We don’t know if we are going to force the school year to a close now or strike when the next school year begins. Either way, we won’t be held hostage by the Board’s zombie budgets. They need to go after the banks, TIF funds, and other forms of short- and long-term revenue that are sitting right in front of us. If they are serious about helping our students and preserving public education in our city, then they will do everything they can to stabilize our schools—and that does not mean hurting teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians over and over again.”
Note: Media will be notified Monday of the time and location of the formal news conference to release further details of the CTU rejection of the fact finder’s report. No other comments will be made until that time.