The Chicago Teachers Union will hold a vote tonight on whether to cancel classes and organize a city-wide strike on April 1st. Members of CTU’s House of Delegates will meet at the International Operating Engineers Hall at 6:30 tonight to determine if CTU should hold a so-called “Day of Action.”
The union said it wants to shed light on the growing financial problems plaguing the district and put pressure on City Hall and Springfield to find “progressive revenue” ideas to fill the budget hole. One of those ideas, of which there is legislation pending in the State Legislature and City Council, asks that the city use surplus property tax revenue, like TIF funds, to reverse a recent round of budget cuts the district said it needed to finish the school year.
“We do not trust the Board [of Education] and we intend to organize a showdown on April 1st over the question of school funding and educational justice,” CTU President Karen Lewis wrote in a letter sent to union members March 14. Other public service unions and minimum wage workers are expected to participate, she said.
CTU’s call for a day-long strike is also in response to stalled negotiations over the union’s new contract, and the Board’s refusal to continue paying members’ share of their pensions. CPS has agreed to continue paying for the 7% “pension pickup” until a deal is reached. CPS CEO Forrest Claypool has said the old contract sunsetted the pension pickup. His office referenced Article 36-4.3, which states: “This pension pick up will not constitute a continuing element of compensation or benefit beyond Fiscal Year 2015 or 2016 should this Agreement be extended for one year.”
The union also wants guaranteed limits on class sizes and caseloads for supportive staff, for CPS to continue the pension pickup, and a moratorium on charter school expansion and school closings.
CTU and CPS have been bargaining over a new contract since November 2014. On February 1 of this year, a CTU bargaining committee voted to reject the tentative agreement for a four-year contract that would have eliminated the pension pick up and provided net pay raises in the third and fourth years of the contract.
The following day, CPS CEO Claypool announced plans to make $100 million in annual cuts to school budgets and recommitted to ending the pickup, which the Board said would save the district $170 million annually.
Any organized strike by the union before May 17 is considered illegal under state labor law. During collective bargaining agreements, unions are prohibited from striking until a third party mediator concludes fact-finding, which in this case, doesn’t end until May 17, about five weeks before the district’s last day of classes. The union has argued this action day is on the basis of unfair labor practices, not on contract negotiations.
This Friday is the first of three unpaid furlough days for teachers announced at the start of the month. CPS said the move is expected to save $30 million.