At 6:30 A.M. on April 1, Chicago teachers arrived at their schools to walk picket lines and begin a one-day unfair labor practices strike called by the Chicago Teachers Union.
The strikers were demanding that the state provide adequate funding for public education and social services and that city leaders use public funds for public services such as education rather than for lining the pockets of well-connected bankers and businessmen.
“This is an unfair labor practices strike,” said Karen Lewis, president of the CTU, during an interview with television station WTTW. “This is a call for funding the schools and social services in the state appropriately.”
Lewis explained that the union’s April 1 action was supported by other unions, especially those whose members provide social services, and 45 community organizations.
The one thing that all these groups have in common is that a current budget impasse initiated by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, who wants to cut funding for education and social service, is diminishing their ability to provide much needed public services.
“The governor has completely shutdown the budget process until he gets what he wants,” said Lewis. “The General Assembly did its job and passed a budget that he didn’t like.”
Now we have a budget impasse that hurts all public services, continued Lewis.
During the strike, CTU held solidarity actions with other unions and community groups affected by the state’s budget impasse.
In the morning, CTU members rallied at an Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services office to demand that the state fund the program.
CTU members and supporters also rallied at Chicago State University to support state funding for higher education.
Prior to the rally at Chicago State, CTU members picketed McCormick Place, a luxury hotel that received $55 million in tax abatements from Chicago’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program.
The unfair labor strike comes at a time when CTU and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) are negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement. They have been negotiating since last summer.
The main stumbling block to reaching a fair contract has been CPS’ budget deficit, which the union says was self-inflicted.
Years ago, CPS entered into risky financial deals with banks such as the Bank of America. As a result of those deals, the school district is now paying unanticipated financing fees worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The union wants the city to sue these banks to recover fees that the union contends were the result of predatory lending practices and fraud.
The city has also diverted city revenue from public education and social services to programs like TIF, which mainly enrich those who are already rich.
One of the results of misspending is that teachers and others who work for Chicago Public Schools are now being asked to work longer and harder for less money.
Last year, CPS increased the number of hours that educators and other staff must stay on the job.
In its negotiations with the union, CPS made an offer that included proposals that would have cut compensation for teachers and other staff.
CPS wanted to end its 7 percent pick up payment to its staff’s pension fund and increase employees’ health care costs. The district also threatened to layoff 5000 teachers and other staff members.
When CTU’s bargaining team rejected CPS’ offer, the district threatened to go ahead with its plan to end the 7 percent pension pick up payment. The district backed off its threat to layoff 5000, but said that 1000 teachers and staff members could lose their jobs.
After CTU announced in March that the union’s House of Delegates had voted to hold an unfair labor strike on April 1, CPS canceled its plan to stop pension pick up payments in April, but it did lay off 34 union members.
Currently, the negotiations are in the fact finding phase in which both sides submit reports on issues under negotiations to an independent fact finder.
While the April 1 strike was not related to contract negotiations, CPS filed charges with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board contending that it was, which made the strike illegal. CPS also sought an injunction barring future strikes while negotiations are in progress.
“We disagree (that the strike was illegal),” said CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin in a statement about CPS’ charges. “The Supreme Court 60 years ago authorized unfair labor practice strikes under the National Labor Relations Action, and we believe teachers have those rights. This was a one-day job action. Their charges were filed after the fact and they seek to enjoin us from doing something we have no intention of doing again. We call on CPS to join us in fighting for more revenue for schools.”