CPS, union both prepare for possibility of teachers strike
BY FRAN SPIELMAN AND ROSALIND ROSSI Staff Reporters August 20, 2012 10:58AM
Chicago Teachers Union informational picketing outside of Cather Elementary School 2908 W. Washington. Monday, August 20, 2012 | Brian Jackson~Sun Times
Updated: August 21, 2012 3:40PM
Chicago Public School officials Monday were crafting contingency plans to keep students busy in the event of a strike, while Chicago Teachers Union members hoisted signs to kick off a week of planned informational picketing outside schools.
Both sides dug in their public heels and stepped up preparations for a strike Monday in the nine-month struggle to resolve a Chicago Teachers Union contract before classes begin for most Chicago Public School students Sept. 4, the day after Labor Day.
CTU officials planned to brief the union’s House of Delegates this Wednesday on what it characterized as intransigent negotiations — and possibly ask for issuance of a 10-day notice of intent to strike.
Such a vote from delegates isn’t necessary, as CTU officials can issue the legally-required notice of intent to strike themselves, noted CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. The notice merely allows union officials to call a strike anytime after 10 days elapse, so to preserve the right to strike on opening day, it would have to be issued by Saturday, Aug 25, Sharkey said.
However, the House of Delegates is required to establish a strike date, which theoretically could be done at another House of Delegates meeting planned for the Thursday before Labor Day, Aug. 30.
This Wednesday, CTU officials plan to tell delegates “what’s on the table,’’ Sharkey said. “On the 30th we’re going to hear back from people in their buildings — are these things acceptable?’’
Hours before Wednesday’s House of Delegates meeting, Chicago School Board members are expected to vote on a contingency plan to “provide student and family support in the event the Chicago Teachers Union chooses to strike,’’ according to a Board agenda released Monday.
The exact board report, according to the agenda, will not be available until Wednesday, but CPS Communications Director Becky Carroll said the resolution was a necessary “precaution.’’
With 82 percent of more than 400,000 CPS students living in low-income homes, CPS needs to provide kids with a “safe environment” and an opportunity to stay engaged in positive ways if the beginning of the school year is disrupted, Carroll said.
However, she refused to say how much money would be set aside by the cash-strapped system for the plan, where the alternative activities would be held, how students would get there, who would supervise them or what hours the activities would be held.
Pressed for details, Carroll said, “There is a whole team trying to evaluate what we need to do. To put things out there that may or may not make the list would be [foolish]. If needed, we’ll share details of a plan at the right time. For now, our focus remains on our kids and their learning and working at the negotiating table to reach a fair agreement.’’
Alternative activities could well be held at Chicago Park District facilities to avoid requiring parents and non-CTU employees to cross picket lines.
Other sources familiar with the plan noted that the Board of Education has 40,000 employees and only 25,000 of them are teachers. That leaves some 15,000 others who could be drafted into action, along with “organizations that provide different services to kids,’’ one source said.
“We can’t deliver instruction. Only certified teachers can do that. But, there are other things we’re looking to do ... to keep kids engaged,’’ said one source familiar with the plan.
Bernie Eschoo, a 29 year CPS veteran, was among dozens of teachers who picketed Monday outside six CPS schools, handing parents leaflets saying teachers were the ones pushing for a “better” school day, not just a longer one. Eschoo said teacher anger was at its highest level in at least 20 years, yet she hoped the two sides could reach a resolution before Sept. 4.
But in the end, Eschoo said, “when you get to the cliff, at some point, you have to make a stand, and he [the mayor] has forced us into that.’’
The CTU’s Sharkey accused CPS of “completely insufficient urgency” and said officials were “refusing to back down on a series of their worst proposals,’’ including giving laid-off workers first crack at new openings, offering only a two percent raise, refusing to pay more in “steps’’ for experience, and demanding “merit pay.’’
And, Sharkey charged, an 11th-hour agreement that allowed students to enjoy the longer day Emanuel campaigned on while not increasing the work day for teachers “has been really disorganized and messed up.’’
Sharkey predicted picketing would continue all week outside schools and escalate to about 100 sites by Friday.
However, Carroll insisted the two sides had made “significant progress over the last six weeks’’ on a contract that expired June 30.
Students should be allowed to benefit from the new, 90-minute longer school day without being “distracted from their learning,’’ Carroll said.
“Our focus should be on our kids and reaching a fair agreement at the negotiating table,’’ Carroll said.
Also Monday, CTU officials decried as “disturbing” a recent CPS email to principals, urging them to report any union-related activities that disrupt the school day — such as walk-outs, “sickouts” or work slowdowns — as “harassment/threat” in the CPS electronic E-Verify system.
Carroll said CPS merely sent principals a “straightforward” email directing them “not to interfere with union activities.’’
The CPS email released by the CTU included a list of union activities inside schools that were legal, but added, “while these are lawful activities, you should report them via the e-verify system. Other unexpected activities are possible as well.
“I am highly disturbed by the contents of this email,’’ CTU President Karen Lewis said in a news release. “Chief among my concerns is what CPS plans to do with the information and how the database will be used. This directive could lead to intimidation of our public school educators, who are fighting for their voices to be heard.’’
Nearly 90 percent of CTU members — a record number — has authorized the union to strike if necessary. The two sides have been at odds since November and a fact-finder created under a new law was unable to resolve the dispute. Instead, he called the relationship between the two sides “toxic.’’