“Ginning up union members with a threat of a teacher strike?” Nope. Here are the issues.

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Chicago’s Ravenswood teachers and union members.

Professional union bashers have falsely claimed that the Chicago Teachers Union has not been transparent about the content of collective bargaining between the CTU and the unelected school board.

In spite of the haters’ claims, the CTU has posted the bargaining positions of both the CTU and the unelected board.

Duration

CTU Position:

3-year contract (expiring end of June 2018)

Board of Ed Position:

4-year contract

Salary

CTU Position:

Protects our step and lane structure and pension pick up for all three years with 2% raises in years two and three.

Board of Ed Position:

The Board’s proposal for 4-year salary: (We are not counting steps and lanes as salary increases because over 90% of school districts in Illinois recognize them as part of the experience/level of education ladder in teaching. CPS is trying to alter that permanently and count them as cost of living raises in order to reduce our compensation.)

YEAR 1 (2015-2016)

Three furlough days LOSS
Cut in lanes/steps: 1.8%

Net loss: 3.24% salary

YEAR 2 (2016-2017)

3.5% pension pick up LOSS

2.75% cola GAIN

0.8% health care LOSS

Net loss: 1.55% salary

YEAR 3 (2017-2018)

3.5% pension pick up LOSS

3.0% cola GAIN

0.8% health care LOSS

Net loss: 1.3% salary

YEAR 4 (2018-2019)

3% cola GAIN

Net gain: 3.0%

TOTAL NET LOSS:

6.09% – 3.0% = 3.09%

Health care

CTU Position:

No health care cuts and restrictions on the Board’s ability to change our health care providers.

Board of Ed Position:

Substantially increases our health care premiums, co-pays, emergency room visits and deductibles while reducing the plan options we have to choose from.

Case Management and Special Education (SPED)

CTU Position:

Requires additional hiring within our bargaining unit to perform case management duties and workload limits for SPED educators and PSRPs.

Board of Ed Position:

Continues current practice of staff reductions and cuts to SPED funding.

Class size

CTU Position:

Enforceable class size limits. Protects our classrooms from mass layoffs.

Board of Ed Position:

No limits on class size.

Student-Based Budgeting

CTU Position:

Eliminates student-based budgeting and its discriminatory impact on staffing veteran teachers.

Board of Ed Position:

Refuses to change the policy.

Layoffs and Recall

CTU Position:

Requires that the district maintains staffing averages and puts laid-off members into existing vacancies. Also requires CPS to allow teachers to follow students when new schools open near an existing school’s attendance boundary.

Board of Ed Position:

Further reduces the rights of laid-off members to return to the system.

Librarians, Counselors, Social Workers, Nurses, School Psychologists

CTU Position:

Calls for protecting our students through guaranteed, adequate staffing for librarians, counselors, social workers and school psychologists at every school.

Board of Ed Position:

Continue to diminish number of librarians throughout the district while refusing to increase the ratio for the other positions.

Retirement Incentive

CTU Position:

No minimum number of retirements to qualify for lump sum payout for early retirement.

Board of Ed Position:

Requires 1,500 teacher retirements and 900 PSRP retirements to trigger the incentive.

School Closings and Charter Expansion

CTU Position:

A moratorium on school closings; severely limit charter expansion and enrollment. Chicago Public Schools should cooperate with the CTU to lobby to eliminate the Illinois State Charter Commission.

Board of Ed Position:

Close schools that cannot make graduation requirements (a vague standard). Promises to reject new charters but allows the Illinois State Charter Commission, dominated by charter advocates, to overrule that decision.

Sustainable Community Schools and Restorative Practices

CTU Position:

Guarantees of funding for 20-50 sustainable community schools with significant supports, staffing and wrap-around services.

Board of Ed Position:

CPS agrees in principle but the devil is in the details.

Is CPS CEO Forrest Claypool correct that the 7% pension pick-up that CPS pays in teacher and PSRP salary is unreasonable or excessive compared to other Illinois school districts?

No—absolutely not. Teachers in Chicago and across the state do not receive social security, and our pensions are the only form of retirement income we possess. In the 1980s, many school districts could not afford raises, and in lieu of them, agreed to pay a portion of the employee pension costs. More than half of all school districts in the state pay more of their employee pension costs than Chicago Public Schools. (Fifty-seven percent of districts pay more according to data from the Teachers’ Retirement System, but that does not include districts that have converted the pick-up into salary, which would actually increase the percentage.)

Claypool appears to want a mass exodus of teachers like the exodus he has caused of quality principals. It’s hard to imagine any other reason why he is cutting teacher pay in a city with a higher cost of living and fewer teacher rights than any of our neighboring districts. For example, teachers elsewhere in Illinois can negotiate lower class sizes and push back through their bargaining rights against privatization deals like Aramark and Sodexho. Additionally, educators must live in the city to work in the city. Our property taxes are going up, too, so cutting our pay simultaneously is a huge disincentive to work in CPS.

Is there a chance we could settle and not require a strike?

We hope so. Bargaining has been ongoing throughout the summer but the Board of Ed has barely moved from its offer on January 29, 2016. As you can see from the comparison between its position and ours, we have a long way to go. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his appointed Board have shown time and time again that they will not compromise or back down unless we exercise our power. Preparing for a strike is our ultimate power, and unless we prepare, we will likely never get a decent contract from the Board.

The good news is that the issues we need to resolve are not insurmountable; the $300 million that separates our position from the Board’s position can be solved if the mayor declared a major (tax increment financing) TIF surplus and taxed corporations using the municipal power he possesses.

When on strike, what happens to my health insurance?

It is unlikely that our health benefits will be suspended by the CPS. If we were to strike early in the month, health insurance is generally guaranteed for the duration of the month. In the event that the Board did suspend our benefits, however, it would qualify as a Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) event. COBRA allows employees to pay their own insurance at a cost of 102% of the coverage. The employee has 60 days to respond whether or not they will accept COBRA, and an additional 45 days to pay for the coverage.

If the new labor contract, effective July 1, 2015, is settled and the strike ends (which it likely would) prior to the deadline to pay the COBRA bill, then your medical bills will be covered by the insurance company once our health plan is reinstated.

Why not strike immediately instead of reporting to school in August and September?

Our House of Delegates was clear on this question—our members will use the opportunity to organize in the workplace at the beginning of the year, collect a paycheck and activate our insurance to avoid the possibility of losing coverage during a strike. This way we set our own deadline instead of waiting for the Board to treat us fairly.

Why go on strike? What did the one-day strike on April 1 get us?

The mayor and his handpicked CPS CEO have cut an unconscionable amount from schools in special education programming, librarians and nurses, 1,000 staff layoffs and continued havoc from student-based budgeting. We must continue to protect our students and their classrooms.

Regarding April 1, our battle cries from that day were heard in Springfield. In the immediate aftermath, we helped successfully restore the state pension levy to the tune of $250 million and increased the school funding formula by more than $100 million—with the potential to add $200 million by early next year. The pension levy had been suspended since mayoral control of CPS was imposed by the state legislature in 1995, so this was a real victory. Without this funding, the value of a strike would have been to limit cuts, layoffs and program reductions. Now, there is a real pathway to a fair contract without starving the schools or harming educators.

Our collective action on April 1 also helped temporarily break the impasse in Springfield and provide a much better opportunity to settle a contract that will be good for teachers and students. Additionally, prior to the one-day strike, Claypool was actively talking about 5,000 layoffs, additional furlough days and unilateral action to cut our salaries by 7% (the pension pick-up). None of those things happened and our ability to strike will continue to be an important tool in the fight for educational justice.

Why is the Union considering taking another strike vote?

CTU members already voted to authorize a strike and are still extremely united on that question. We are clear: Members have spoken, that authorization is still in place and people are ready to use it if needed. But we also know that Emanuel and Governor Bruce Rauner will do everything they can to try to take away our right to strike. Rauner appoints the Illinois Labor Relations Board and the mayor has already tried to make striking illegal for us in 2012 and again last year.

This is why the CTU is considering organizing a new vote. One option is to circulate voting materials in schools with every CTU member signing onto a petition. It would help us get organized in our buildings and send a powerful message to the city that we’re ready to fight for a fair contract. We would also be able to declare it as another official authorization vote to offset any potential legal challenges.

What is the Big Bargaining Team and why should we trust its judgment?

The officers of the CTU asked 50 members of our elected Executive Board, school leaders, delegates and members who represent the diversity, geographic dispersion and specific positions within the union (clinicians, PSRPs, itinerant teachers, etc.) to help look at any Board proposals to ensure member interests are reflected at every step of the bargaining process. The Big Bargaining Team has been a critical group of leaders who hold various perspectives, concerns and levels of expertise in our union, and has been invaluable in providing the detail and insight necessary to negotiate the best terms and conditions for our next contract.

Once the Board makes an offer worth consideration there will be a recommendation from CTU officers and the Big Bargaining Team to the House of Delegates (HOD) for an “accept” or “reject” vote. If a tentative offer is accepted by the HOD, it then goes to the entire membership for approval.

Did teacher and PSRP compensation cause CPS’ financial crisis?

No. The two biggest cost drivers in the CPS budget are debt service and charter expansion. Instead of going after teachers who already have experienced pay freezes, mass layoffs and budget cuts, the mayor and his CPS CEO should go after the big banks that ripped off the city and the schools with toxic interest rate swaps worth over $1 billion. They should also call for a charter moratorium and empty the $500 million TIF fund, both of which remove a considerable amount of district resources that would be better used in our classrooms.

Equitable short-term and long-term solutions exist. The Cook County Clerk’s office recently reported the nearly $500 million in tax receipts sitting in TIF accounts. The cut in teacher salary amounts to just $200 million. By emptying TIF surpluses across the city, not only can CPS avoid cutting teachers, but the draconian cuts imposed this summer also can be reversed. Additionally, the city could re-impose the corporate head tax and make it less of a nuisance to pay for employers with 50 or more employees. By our estimate, such a move would hit wealthier employers and generate nearly $100 million annually. That amount could restore all librarians to schools and double the number of counselors, social workers and school nurses. It could also help protect special education programs that have been adversely affected by reductions in staff and funding. In a city experiencing record levels of violence, there is no better or more necessary investment in children’s lives.

What should the CTU be doing to inform the public about our contract campaign?

CTU members are the best messengers. We live in every community and engage with millions of Chicagoans when you factor in our students and their families, our own neighbors and relatives, and the CTU’s labor, community and education justice partners. The anti-CTU (i.e., anti-teacher) editorials of the Chicago Tribune are read by far fewer people. Further, the Chicago media market is prohibitively expensive so we have to use our resources wisely and create our own, unique networks.

Your union will provide you with much material to start the school year—starting with this FAQ—so you can speak with confidence and more certainty our contract fight. To learn more, please attend one of the three Contract Action Team trainings on September 13, 15 and 17, and make sure your delegate attends the critically important House of Delegates meeting on September 7.

One thought on ““Ginning up union members with a threat of a teacher strike?” Nope. Here are the issues.

  1. Gee, Fred, how interesting you knew all this but Cuningham claimed CTU only says “strike.” OK, I saw the word…along with all the facts of CTU’s positions on the issues. Wonder how he missed all the info? (Yup, that there is sarcasm.)

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