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Chicago Teachers' Union Rejects Fact-Finder's Recommendations on Contract

The Chicago Teachers Union said on Saturday that it had rejected a fact-finder's recommendations to consider terms from a district contract offer that it had already voted against, increasing the likelihood that union members will go on strike over a labor pact.  

"The clock has started," Karen Lewis, the Chicago Teachers Union President, said in a statement posted on the union's website on Saturday.

The union had already signaled on Friday that it would reject the fact-finder's recommendations if they were not to its liking. 

"CPS has created this fiscal mess and refuses to go after hundreds of millions of dollars in existing revenue that is already out there," Lewis said.  "Our wacked-out governor isn't helping. Hand-in-hand, both will wind up hurting our members and our students in the long run. We have no choice to prepare ourselves for a possible strike."

The CTU plans to hold a press conference on Monday.

The union, which represents about 27,000 members, cannot legally go on strike until 30 days after the report is published. Its contract expired on June 30 last year. 

Chicago Schools' CEO Forrest Claypool was scheduled to speak to the media on Saturday afternoon to discuss the fact-finding report's recommendations. The district has recommended that the school board accept the report's findings.

Claypool asked the union to return to the bargaining table.

"This report should not be the precursor to a strike—it must be the precursor to a final agreement," Claypool was expected to say, according to his prepared remarks.  "I was disappointed to hear the CTU's president say today that this starts the clock for a strike.

"Rather than start the clock for a strike that would cost our children precious days of school at the end of the year, I would urge that the CTU uses the remaining time on the clock to join us and concentrate on reaching a final deal so that Chicago's children can continue their extraordinary academic progress."

Claypool was also expected to reassure families that the district would do everything to avert a strike and to urge the CTU to work with the district to seek changes in how Illinois funds its schools. 

The report, by attorney Steven Bierig, recommended that the union and district incorporate the terms on wages, steps and lane, pension contributions, and healthcare from an offer the district made to the union on Jan. 29 for a four-year agreement to cover July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2019. The report also recommended that the board's healthcare proposal be adopted. 

On wages, the district offered increases of 2.75 percent from July 1, 2016; 3.0 percent from July 1, 2017; 1 percent beginning on July 1, 2018; and 2 percent beginning Jan. 1, 2019. The pension pick-up—the long-standing practice in which CPS contributes 7 percent of its teachers' pension payments—would also be phased-out from 7 percent on July 1, 2015, 3.50 percent on July 1, 2016, to zero the following year. 

The union's Big Bargaining Team met on Feb. 1 and rejected the offer. At the time, Lewis said that it was a matter of trust, and that the teachers' union did not trust district to hold up its end of the agreement. The union also vehemently disagreed with a proposal by the district to end the long-standing pension pick-up practice, which it has likened to a pay cut.

The union also wanted the city to use more TIF funds­ (Tax Increment Financing)—a financing mechanism used to support public projects—to help alleviate some of the district's financial woes.

In its statement on Saturday, the union said the Jan. 29 offer would result in teachers taking home less money at the end of the four-year contract than they do today and would freeze salary steps and lanes.

The Chicago school district is operating under severe financial constraints. The district has a structural deficit of about $1 billion, largely tied to its pension obligations. It recently had to borrow money at high interest rates to keep the district running. And the state school financing system has also compounded the local financial woes.

Gov. Bruce Rauner also wants to attempt a state takeover of the district, the third largest in the country.

Claypool said last year that the district could not afford to give the union everything it wanted. In February, he expressed disappointment that the union had rejected the district's offer, which he noted included many things the union had asked for.

The union on April 1 held a "Day of Action," one-day strike, after CPS instituted three furlough days to save money and initially threatened to modify the pension pick-up.  The district has filed a complaint against the union with the state about the April 1 walkout. 

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