The Chicago Teachers Union on Monday formally rejected a fact-finder’s report, kicking off a 30-day countdown to a possible teachers strike, just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot amended the city’s contract offer to mirror that report.
Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools announced they will increase their five-year contract offer to include a 16% cost of living adjustment (COLA), to match recommendations from independent arbitrator Steven Bierig’s report.
That’s 2% more than the city’s previous offer and represents what Lightfoot described as the “most robust salary and benefit package in CTU history.” But CTU leaders rejected Bierig’s report. That means they will legally be able to go on strike on Sept. 25.
“There’s no reason there should be a strike,” Lightfoot said. “We have 30 days to get the job done, we could get this done today. We put, I think, a very robust offer on the table … The deal is there to be had and there is no reason over 30 days that we can’t get this inked and done.”
Under the city’s latest offer, teachers and staff would see a total of $351 million in salary increases. Between those terms and regular salary increases based on years of service, they claim the average teacher would see their salary increase 24% over the life of the five-year deal.
The union took issue with the suggested contract length in Bierig’s report and said it ignored the vast majority of disputed issues between the sides. The union has sought a 14% increase but over a three-year deal.
The union has not yet scheduled a strike authorization vote, but CTU President Jesse Sharkey said that will likely come next month.
“What our contract represents is a legally enforceable promise in writing that the conditions in our classrooms are going to improve,” he said. “That’s what we need to see in order to reach a settlement with the Chicago Public Schools. And until that happens, the CTU is gonna continue to reject the fact-finder’s report and it’s gonna continue to insist that we see real improvements.”
Fact-finding is a legally mandated process in contract mediation between the city and the CTU. Bierig’s report was officially made public Monday, weeks after WTTW News first reported its details.
In a dissenting opinion filed Monday, CTU attorney Robert Bloch called the fact-finding process itself a “total failure in identifying possible terms for contract settlement.”
Both the city and the union submitted an initial list of 21 disputed issues for fact-finding in June, which included things like class sizes, special education and school closings. But Bierig’s report weighs in on only three of those items: contract length, wages and health care.
Sharkey also demanded commitments in writing from the city that it will increase the number of social workers, librarians and nurses inside Chicago’s schools.
CPS CEO Janice Jackson contends those assurances have already been made.
“Our commitment to bolstering these resources is firm and we shouldn’t hold up a strong contract when we have already solidified the support and have shown we are serious about addressing the issues that matter most to our schools,” she said. “I see no reason why we can’t start the school year (with) a full plan in place.”