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Email battle ahead of Chicago teachers’ strike vote

Jean-Claude Brizard | Sun-Times Library

Jean-Claude Brizard | Sun-Times Library

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Updated: July 7, 2012 8:51AM

More than 25,000 Chicago Teachers Union members begin voting Wednesday on whether to authorize a strike ­— a move their leaders say is critical to their bargaining “leverage’’ but one district officials decry as “premature.’’

Both sides Tuesday bombarded CTU members with emailed missives about what could be the prelude to Chicago’s first teachers strike in 25 years.

“There is no need to vote now,’’ Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard told teachers in a blast email Tuesday.

He said any strike authorization vote could wait until the end of August after a fact-finder issues his July 16 recommendations and after most teachers return to their classrooms on Aug. 27.

A vote now would be “premature,’’ Brizard wrote, and would “not allow teachers to make an informed decision.’’

“We can’t afford to wait! The time to vote is now,’’ CTU leaders told their members by email.

“The mayor and the Board [of Education] seem intent on NOT reaching an agreement before the next school year begins. ’’ A third of the system’s students start classes Aug. 13 and “we need to send. . . a strong message now that ‘enough is enough,’ ” union leaders charged.

Meanwhile, Mayor Rahm Emanuel made the same appeal to teachers he has been making for weeks: teachers “deserve a pay raise’’ but the city’s school children do not “deserve a strike.’’

Even Ald. Howard Brookins Jr., (21st) chair of the City Council’s black caucus, and Ald. Daniel Solis, (25th) chair of the Latino caucus, jumped into the fray, urging CTU President Karen Lewis by email to “hit the pause button’’ and wait for a new law’s “compromise process’’ with a fact-finder to be played out before taking any strike authorization vote.

In the trenches Tuesday, several teachers predicted their schools would handily meet the new 75 percent strike authorization threshold required by the new law pushed by Emanuel that also gave school leaders the power to unilaterally impose Emanuel’s call for a longer school day next school year.

The vote is expected to stretch over three days and be announced Friday.

Contentions that the union should wait for July 16 recommendations from a fact-finder are “all a campaign of misinformation,’’ said Harlan High teacher and union delegate Patricia Boughton. The union’s House of Delegates would have to set the actual date of any strike.

“A strike authorization vote is not a strike vote,’’ Boughton said. “It is simply the membership giving the union permission to call a strike if the need arises. We are not here, for the most part, during the summer. People are scattered hither and yon. You have to do this during the school year. It would be foolish to do it during the summer.”

Boughton said Harlan teachers were most upset about the district’s offer of only a guaranteed 2 percent raise over five years, something she called a “lowball insulting offer.’’ She said teachers are “very eager’’ to vote and “express themselves.’’

At Gage Park High, teacher Xian Barrett agreed.

“Everyone is pretty excited,’’ Barrett said. “There’s a general sense that for everything that’s being thrown at us, this is a chance to stand up for ourselves and for the best environment for our kids.’’

At Gage Park, teachers are most angered by facilities cutbacks which means Gage Park will again be left without school-wide air conditioning when classes begin in mid August, Barrett said. Also distressing is the board’s proposal for yet-to-be-decided “differentiated pay” in years three through five that could be linked to student test scores, which “a lot of us don’t trust,’’ Barrett said.

In his email to teachers Tuesday, Brizard said the CTU had opened negotiations with a request for a 24 percent pay hike the first year and 5 percent the second year.

Said Brizard: “With a projected $3 billion deficit over the next three years, we cannot afford a 30 percent raise, but teachers deserve a raise and will get one that’s fair. How much that raise should be is in the hands of the fact-finder.”

CTU officials contend their opening proposal of 24 percent first-year increase was based on being ordered to work a 20 percent longer day and denied this school year’s promised 4 percent raise. The Board’s offer of a guaranteed raise of 2 percent in the first year of a five-year contract and unspecified “differentiated pay’’ in years three through five does not amount to fair compensation for what will be both a longer and a “harder’’ day, union leaders emailed their troops.

The CTU’s Lewis said the strike authorization vote was actually the idea of CTU members, who started taking straw strike polls in their own schools on their own initiative weeks ago.

“This is what our members have asked us to do,’’ Lewis said. “We are not going to take our vote in July when we have to look for people….We are trying to get a contract and hoping to actually avoid a strike. Maybe now we can move the board to see that we are serious.”

Contributing, Fran Spielman

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