Video: Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey discusses contract negotiations, a possible strike and more.
Where do the Chicago Teachers Union and Board of Education stand on the key issues that are keeping the two sides from agreeing to a new contract? A new report sheds some light on those negotiations.
WTTW News has obtained a copy of independent arbitrator Steven Bierig’s preliminary report, which has been submitted both to the board and the CTU, but won’t be made public until the end of the month.
The union’s previous contract with the board expired at the end of June. The two sides have continued bargaining throughout this year – even as the city elected a new mayor – but have not yet reached an agreement. CTU President Jesse Sharkey has said a teachers strike is possible if negotiations sour, while Mayor Lori Lightfoot believes a deal will be struck before Sept. 3: the start of the 2019-20 school year.
In his 110-page report, Bierig leaned more toward the board’s proposal, recommending a five-year contract that would include a 16% cost of living adjustment (COLA) for teachers and a 1% increase in employee health care contributions over the life of the deal.
“I think what it shows is that the city has stepped up and made real commitments to teachers and support staff to make sure we are enhancing the educational experience for our young people.” Lightfoot said of the report during a press conference Friday.
The union also felt Bierig’s report favored Lightfoot’s proposal, stating in an internal memo, “It is clear, however, that the Fact-Finder’s recommendation is incomplete and insufficient, and will leave students and educators with more of the same. As ever, it is further clear to us that we will only win such a contract if we are willing to fight for it.”
“This report does nothing but codify inequitable and unjust school policy,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said in an emailed statement to union members.
Sharkey and the union are now planning an all-member meeting on Aug. 20 to map out their path ahead.
“We renew our call to (Lightfoot) to join us in providing the resources and the guarantees she promised as a candidate – in an enforceable contract – to strengthen our school communities," he wrote in his message.
Lightfoot maintains her belief a deal can be reached by the end of the month.
“Let’s get it done," she said Friday. "We stand ready, any time, any day, we will roll up our sleeves, work hard at the negotiating table and get the deal done. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t do that and provide stability to our young people and their families so they can enjoy Labor Day knowing school is going to open on time.”
The fact-finder’s recommendations come following a two-day hearing held in mid-July. The board was represented there by veteran labor attorney James C. Franczek, while CTU attorneys Robert Bloch and Thaddeus Goodchild appeared on behalf of the union.
Neither side has been shy about commenting on the ongoing labor negotiations generally, but Bierig’s report offers a better glimpse at where the parties are at as the days tick down to the start of the new school year.
Both the board and the union submitted an initial list of 21 disputed issues for fact-finding in June. But the board contends it was only proper for Bierig to consider five of those items: health care, salaries, teacher evaluation, teacher preparation time and term of agreement.
Some issues – like paid time off, sanctuary schools, substitute teachers, sustainable community schools and teacher evaluations – were remanded back to the parties for further bargaining. Bierig deemed others – like class sizes, early childhood education, special education and school closings – to be outside his jurisdiction as a fact-finder.
In the end, Bierig offered recommendations on just three issues: contract length, wages and health care. Below are the arguments each side presented on those issues.
CTU: 3 years, ending in June 2022
The union claims a shorter contract is necessary to avoid “(tying) the hands” of both sides as the city and school district enter a period of “significant transition.”
Specifically, the CTU wants its next contract to expire before 2023, when an elected school board could be put into place in Chicago.
Board of Education: 5 years, ending in June 2024
The board says a longer deal offers them stability that “permits predictability, flexibility, and the ability to modify innovative educational initiatives,” according to the report. More time would give the city a larger window to spread out salary increases at a slower rate than CTU is seeking.
The board also recognizes the possibility of an elected school board in its proposal. But they say it wouldn’t be logical for this contract to expire immediately before campaigning for those spots would get underway.
A five-year deal “expiring in June 2024 is the only Term that is practical, appropriate and consistent with a Board elected in the Spring of 2023,” the report states, summarizing the board’s argument.
Fact-finder recommendation: 5 years
Cost of living adjustment
CTU: 15% increase over three years, broken down as 5% increases in each year.
Teachers say Chicago is lagging behind the other six largest unionized school districts in the country, which have seen average COLA increases of 19% from 2010-11 to 2018-19. CPS has seen just a 12% salary increase during that time. Since 2011, CTU claims the average union member has seen COLA increases of just 1.44%, which they say is “well below the rate of inflation.”
“The Union contends that the cost of living in Chicago has increased dramatically,” the report states, “and salaries for Teachers in other large, unionized, urban school districts have also significantly increased.”
Despite CPS budget increases since 2011, the union says funding allocated to teachers and educational support personnel has declined, while increased amounts have instead been used for “privatization and debt service.”
“CPS has received a billion dollar cash infusion pursuant to (Illinois’ Evidence Based Funding formula), substantial pension relief, and a commitment of future increased funding from various sources,” the report states, summarizing CTU’s position. “Thus, it is clear that the Board now has sufficient funding to accept the Union’s reasonable proposal.”
Board of Education: 14% increase over five years, broken down as 2.5% increases in 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22, followed by 3% increases in 2022-23 and 2023-24.
The board, however, contends it cannot fund the union’s proposal based on “existing available resources.”
“The Union’s proposal would deplete most of the general fund reserves, which are already below the recommended target funding level,” the report says of the board’s proposal. “While the Union maintains that CPS has resolved its fiscal crisis, the evidence does not support the Union’s position.”
They claim CPS teachers received “very generous increases” in their last two contracts, netting them higher wage growth over the last eight years than the average private industry worker in Chicago.
“Due to wage increases, pension payments, debt service increases for capital improvements in CPS facilities, programmatic investments and school funding, CPS is still determining how to fill its projected $141M shortfall for FY20,” the report states. “It will be able to do so, but the Board cannot sustain greater salary costs than it has proposed.”
Fact-finder recommendation: 16% increase over five years.
CTU: Maintain current health care benefit levels, reduce premiums and emergency room copays, offer free dental and vision coverage, and expand options.
Board of Education: Maintain current plan – with no increases to copays, deductibles, plan choices or out-of-pocket costs – while increasing employee contribution by a “modest” 0.5% in each of the final three years of the contract.
Health insurance cost increases present “significant challenges,” the board claims in the report.
“In FY19, CPS anticipates that it will spend $348M on health care costs and for FY20, projects that it will spend $368M,” the report states. “The Board projects that health costs will increase by 6% annually over the next five years.”
Fact-finder recommendation: 1% employee contribution increase over life of the contract.
Note: This story was originally published Aug. 9, 2019. It has been updated to include our interview with CTU President Jesse Sharkey.