Chicago teachers move closer to ratifying new collective bargaining agreement

Chicago teachers took another step toward ratifying a new collective bargaining agreement with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) when the Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates voted on October 19 to endorse a tentative agreement.

The tentative agreement now goes to the 27,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) for a ratification vote that will be held on October 27 and 28.

The union and CPS reached an agreement on the eve of a strike.

After reaching an agreement on October 10, CTU President said, “We’re very pleased with the agreement” but also noted that the agreement isn’t perfect.

The bargaining over a new collective bargaining agreement began in 2015 as CPS was in the midst of a budget crisis. Over the last two years, the school district’s budget has been cut by $300 million.

Members of CTU worked all of the 2015-2016 without a contract as negotiations bogged down because the school district insisted on steep concessions from its teachers and other education workers.

As the beginning of the school year drew near, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel tried to intimidate teachers into accepting CPS’ concession-laden contract proposal.

Claypool told the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune that CTU members had a choice: they either had to accept concession or accept further cuts to classroom resources that would hurt their students.

Mayor Emanuel backed up his handpicked leader at CPS by telling the media that the teachers had to make choice between one of the two alternatives.

In response, CTU called for a vote on whether to authorize a strike if a fair contract could not be reached. Ninety-five percent of the membership voted to authorize a strike.

The union, which has spent the last five years building a base of support among parents, students, and the community, said that if the union had to strike, the strike wouldn’t just be about better pay, it would be about better education.

Negotiations continued as the October 11 strike deadline drew near, but a strike appeared to be imminent.

On October 10, union members picked up picket signs and prepared to strike the next day.

But that evening, CPS offered a new proposal that included an additional $87.5 million that would come from a surplus in Mayor Emanuel’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) fund.

TIF is a program that diverts property taxes in areas of the city targeted for redevelopment into a fund used to subsidize private development in those areas.

The offer to use the TIF surplus did not come out of thin air. The union, city council members, and parents had been urging the mayor for more than a year to invest more TIF money in public education.

The extra TIF money and savings resulting from the tentative agreement will significantly increase resources for Chicago’s classrooms.

For example, the district agreed to hire assistants for kindergarten through second grade teachers whose classes have 32 or more students.

The district will also spend more money on after school programs, counselling, and medical services for students.

Special education teachers, counselors, and other service providers will be able to spend more time teaching and providing services and less time on paper work, and elementary teachers will have more time to prepare lessons.

In addition, the agreement capped the number of charter schools that could operate in the district.

The tentative agreement also contains some economic gains for teachers and other union members.

The school district wanted to eliminate the 7 percent pick up, an extra pension contribution that the school district makes on behalf of each CTU member. The tentative agreement keeps the 7 percent pension pick up intact for current staff, but eliminates it for staff hired after January 1, 2017.

In lieu of the pick up, new staff will receive a 7 percent increase in base salary split over two years.

The school district also agreed to restore step and lane pay increases, which compensate teachers for years of service. The district stopped paying these increases last year.

The district also agreed to a 4.5 percent cost of living raise for the last two years of the agreement.

Teachers laid off at the end of the year will be eligible fill vacant positions. If no positions are available, laid off teachers can teach as a substitute with full pay and benefits for one year.

The agreement also includes incentive payments for eligible teachers to retire at the end of the current school year; although in order to get the incentive, at least 1500 teachers must retire at the end of the school year.

The House of Delegates voted 358 to 130 to endorse the tentative agreement. The margin of those voting yes over those voting was substantial; nevertheless, the number of no votes showed that there was significant opposition to the agreement.

During the delegates’ meeting, special education teachers and counselors expressed disappointment that the agreement did not include a cap on special education class sizes.

Others criticized the agreement for excluding new hires from receiving the 7 percent pension pick up.

Lewis said that much of the dissent could be traced to a feeling among teachers that CPS could not be trusted to carry out its responsibilities laid out in the tentative agreement.

That distrust is not unwarranted. Soon after CTU won a strike and a new collective bargaining agreement in 2012, CPS began cutting its budget, laying off teachers, and closing schools.

But Lewis said that she thinks the agreement will be ratified.

“I think there’s enough in this tentative agreement that will appeal to the overwhelming majority of members,” said Lewis.

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