Teachers at Chicago Public Schools have been back to work for a couple of months following a historic 11-day strike that ended in October. But the question of how to dole out $25 million to senior teachers is still unresolved.
In the final days of the strike, negotiators were under pressure to work out an agreement so teachers could get back to their classrooms.
One of the issues they faced: veteran teachers – those who spent 14 years or more teaching in the district – felt they weren’t getting enough of a pay raise in the new five-year contract, which offered a 16% pay increase over that five-year term.
During a tense meeting in the mayor’s office two days before the strike ended, both sides agreed the district would spend $5 million a year over the five-year contract – for a total of $25 million – on increasing the salary for those senior teachers.
Throughout December, the two sides met to discuss how to distribute the funds, but couldn’t agree on a plan. The Chicago Teachers Union says the money should be worked into teachers’ salary schedule as steps – the annual increase teachers receive for a year of experience as a teacher.
Now, each side claims the other is changing the nature of the conversation they had at the time.
“That was part of the deal at the end of the strike. We asked people to vote on an arrangement in which we said, ‘We haven’t worked out the details, but this is the basic place this is headed,’” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey. “And now that’s being changed.”
The CTU has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the district with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board, arguing the district is acting in bad faith and hoping the board will set the record straight.
The CTU salary schedule shows that step increases for teachers slow down significantly after their 14th year of teaching.
Debbie Yaker, who has 21 years of teaching experience in the district, told us how this affected her personally.
“Everything kept on going on. My insurance went up, cost of living went up, expenditures went up. My salary stayed the exact same,” said Yaker, a bilingual special education teacher at Hanson Park Elementary School in Belmont-Cragin. “Then finally at my 20th year, I had an increase, but it still didn’t equal out everything that kept on going up.”
The district said it never intended to make the teacher’s pay increase part of the salary schedule – that money would compound and the district could end up paying a lot more than it bargained for.
“Any suggestion that CPS agreed to additional salary steps is false and not supported by any written agreements between the parties or union leadership’s own public statements to their members prior to ratification,” CPS spokesperson Michael Passman said in a statement.
The district argues that an outline of the tentative agreement that CTU distributed just after the agreement was reached, in which the veteran teacher pay “schedule [is] to be finalized prior to ratification,” doesn’t reference step increases.
Bob Bruno, professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois, says it’s not uncommon for minor details to be worked out after the major points have been agreed to in a contract negotiation, but for something this significant to remain outstanding is rare.
“That’s a whole lot different than this core question of whether this money is part of the salary schedule or whether it’s a bonus, because it has enormous implications financially. It just seems highly extraordinary that the parties wouldn’t have had conversation about doing that,” Bruno said.
The district says even though it never agreed to steps, in the spirit of compromise it has proposed adding one additional step and two separate “longevity payments,” or bonuses, based on the number of years served.
Follow Brandis Friedman on Twitter @BrandisFriedman