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Schools to start on time; union won’t file strike notice Saturday

CTU president Karen Lewis news conference outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters 125 S. Clark St. Wednesday August 22 2012. |

CTU president Karen Lewis at news conference outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters, 125 S. Clark St., Wednesday, August 22, 2012. | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 26, 2012 6:05AM

Chicago Public School parents breathed a sigh of relief Friday at news that most schools will open on time Sept. 4 because the Chicago Teachers Union chose not to file a 10-day intent-to-strike notice timed to that day.

However, the notice is written and sitting on CTU President Karen Lewis’ computer, ready to be signed at any time, CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said.

Filing it allows the union to strike any time after a 10-day heads-up to CPS. However, members of the union’s House of Delegates also must set a strike date before any walkout — something they could theoretically do at their next meeting, on Thursday.

CTU officials decided that because “everyone is working hard at the negotiating table,’’ the moment was not right to file the notice, Sharkey said.

“It’s a big card and we’re holding that card until we need to play it,’’ he said.

Michael Butz, parent of a third-grader at Disney Magnet, declared the union’s decision “thrilling news’’ and a positive sign.

But if teachers later decide to walk out after school begins, “I think it would be a public relations nightmare for them,’’ Butz said.

“I’d be very disappointed with a strike either way, but [having a strike after classes begin] would almost be the worst-case scenario,’’ said Butz, a member of the parent group Stand for Children, which has been a Mayor Rahm Emanuel ally.

Meanwhile, Sharkey said union officials were “upset’’ to learn Friday that paychecks sent to teachers at year-round schools that began classes earlier this month did not include raises for years of experience, often called “step” increases. Such increases average about 3.5 percent a year, he said.

A major point of contention in talks is CPS’ insistence on ending future “step” increases for experience as well as “lane’’ increases for extra credentials, CTU officials say.

CTU attorney Robert Bloch said that under labor law, when a contract expires, mandatory subjects of bargaining must remain in effect until the parties reach an impasse or an agreement. Therefore, Bloch said, the union thinks its members are entitled to previously negotiated step and lane increases until that time.

As a result, CTU officials said they were examining filing an unfair labor practice charge over the issue. “It’s one of the things, that, let’s be honest, is a strike issue,’’ Sharkey said.

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said Friday that Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard notified teachers by letter earlier this month that until a contract was resolved, cash-strapped CPS was “only authorized to pay you the base amount of your wage without any 2012 increases taken into account.’’

The letter continued: “Let there be no mistake, though, you will be paid and once we reach an agreement with CTU, all contractually authorized adjustments to your salary will be accounted for and distributed to you dating back to the start of the school year.”

Plus, Carroll said, only 19 percent of teachers had an Aug. 1 hiring anniversary date that would make them eligible for a step pay increase this month.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported Friday that Emanuel’s office plans to become much more personally involved in the labor negotiations and create a “second level of negotiations with more senior people,’’ away from the cast of characters that have been negotiating for nine months without a resolution. If necessary, the mayor is ready to personally broker a close to the deal, sources told the Sun-Times.

“If the mayor wants to come in and put his political weight behind getting CPS off its extreme positions, that will help settle the contract,’’ Sharkey said. “We will sit anywhere and talk.’’

A fact-finder who was unable to resolve the dispute in July called the relationship between the two sides “toxic.”

One CTU official said the parties plan to meet Friday, over the weekend and “regularly if not daily from here on out.”

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