CTU Prepping Teachers for ‘Strong Possibility’ of Strike

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The Chicago Teachers Union is “likely to strike” this fall, according to an email distributed to teachers this week advertising a daylong strike training session this weekend.

Workshops centered on “workplace tactics to stick it to the boss” and “planning and winning strikes” are on the agenda for Chicago teachers during the event, which is scheduled to run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday on the University of Illinois at Chicago campus.

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The email – sent to teachers by CTU with the subject line “Sat. 8/20: Prepare to strike with Labor Notes” – offers to connect teachers with other public sector unions in order to better leverage their “combined power.”

“Chicago’s issues are bigger than one workplace,” the email states. “Our bully mayor, billionaire governor and greedy corporations in Illinois are pushing a coordinated agenda. They want to slash wages, abolish pensions, outsource jobs and gut public services.”

When asked Wednesday if the strike prep session means parents and students should prepare for a walkout this fall, CTU President Karen Lewis said that CTU “will always be prepared” to strike.

“You can’t just call a strike and say, ‘Hey, let’s do a strike.’ It doesn’t work like that. It takes a lot of preparation, it takes a lot of organization, it takes a lot of conversations that need to happen with parents,” Lewis said.

Labor Notes, a Detroit-based union activist organization, is running Saturday's event. According to its website, it has put on similar training sessions in Denver, Indianapolis and Miami. Listed sponsors for Saturday's event include CTU, the United Electrical Workers, Chicago ACTS Local 4343 and more than a half-dozen other labor organizations.

“As we prepare for the strong possibility of a teachers strike this fall,” the email states, “hear from local workers (and national guests) who’ve sat in and walked out.”

Click for full view: A Chicago Troublemakers School poster advertising this weekend's strike training. (Labor Notes)

Lewis says contract talks are stuck on the desire by CPS to end the pension pickup. For three decades, the district has paid 7 percent of the 9 percent employee contribution to the teacher pension system. But a contract offered and nearly agreed to in January proposed to phase that out over two years. Lewis says that the union will not accept any contract that reduces teachers’ take home pay.

“Seven percent is a pay cut, and we can’t do that,” Lewis said. “We’re not giving on any pay cuts. And a pension pickup will be a loss of compensation. It is not a perk, it is not a favor, it is delayed compensation.”

But the district says it has offered raises that more than equal out whatever cut in take home pay would result from ending the pension pickup.

CPS also agreed to other issues like a moratorium on new charter schools.

In addition, there are new revenue sources in this year’s budget to help close a $1 billion deficit. That includes $418 million in new money from the state in a deal that was supported both by Democrats in the General Assembly and Gov. Bruce Rauner; and $300 million in property taxes, as the state and city authorized new property tax levies.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday urged teachers to stop the strike rhetoric and accept a deal that was presented and almost agreed to back in January.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks to reporters on Wednesday.Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks to reporters on Wednesday.

“I want the teachers to be part of the solution, there’s a pay raise in there for them,” Emanuel said. “One of the challenges is, the state wasn’t a partner with them. The state is now a partner, the city is a partner and they have to be a partner in securing their pension which is the biggest drain on public finances.”

Back in January, Lewis and union leadership called the district’s offer “serious” and all signs pointed toward labor peace. But the union’s big bargaining unit rejected the deal and ordered the sides back to the bargaining table. A third party arbitrator ruled in favor of the contract that was offered. The two sides say they continue to meet.

CPS also recently announced 500 teacher layoffs. Lewis said Wednesday the move “is not happy news” but didn’t say whether it poisoned contract negotiations.

The district meanwhile says it has three times as many teaching vacancies as positions that were cut, and held a job fair Wednesday to try and fill them.

On Tuesday, word came that CPS was going to borrow $954 million for its capital budget, separate from its main operating budget. It could be tricky because of the district’s junk bond status – it’ll likely face stiff interest costs.

A series of six CPS-lead public hearings on the district’s proposed budget began Wednesday and extend throughout the rest of the week. The Chicago Board of Education is expected to vote on that budget at its meeting next Wednesday.

Follow Matt Masterson on Twitter: @ByMattMastersonFollow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz

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