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Chicago Teachers Union’s notice could allow strike in 10 days

Karen Lewis president Chicago Teachers Uni(CTU) holds press conference discuss next course acticontract talks with Chicago Public Schools Wednesday August

Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), holds a press conference to discuss the next course of action in contract talks with the Chicago Public Schools on Wednesday, August 29, 2012. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 1, 2012 5:04PM



Chicago’s first teacher walkout in 25 years could erupt as early as the fifth day of school — Sept. 10 — under a 10-day notice of intent to strike filed Wednesday by Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.

Armed with that notice, the union’s House of Delegates meets Thursday to discuss setting a possible strike date, propelled by a “strong sentiment’’ to “set the earliest possible” date, one union source said.

A number of delegates and union negotiators who met Wednesday at CTU headquarters supported the idea of nailing down a date of Monday, Sept. 10, the start of the second week of school for most kids, the source said. The final decision rests with the entire House of Delegates.

Even if delegates set a strike date Thursday, it might not constitute a firm line in the sand. Delegates could set a date and then reset it if negotiations show progress. Or they could set a date with the caveat that Lewis or union leaders extend it under certain conditions, union sources said.

In announcing she had invoked the power to file a strike notice given to her last week, Lewis said Wednesday that teachers were tired of being “belittled, bullied and betrayed.’’

After nine months of negotiations, the two sides remain far apart on key issues of wages, job security and teacher evaluations and “we need to get this process to move or some people will drag their

feet forever,’’ Lewis said. “... CPS seems determined to have a toxic relationship with its employees.”

Some parents found the prospect of a strike after classes begin to be even grimmer than a walkout that would have merely delayed the Sept. 4 start of school for most Chicago Public School students.

“Starting school and then striking? That’s horrible,’’ said Wildwood School parent Migdalia Roldan. “These kids will be in a routine and it’s going to disrupt their routine. It’s possible they will be off for who knows how long if they go on strike.’’

However, School Board President David Vitale said “a strike would be disruptive at any time.’’ The parent of a CPS high school senior, Vitale referred to the busy first quarter his daughter faces preparing college applications.

“Any time that they lose time with their counselors and teachers on any of these issues, it puts them at a disadvantage,’’ Vitale said.

Despite the hefty issues still on the table, Vitale told the Chicago Sun-Times he believed the two sides could still reach a settlement before Sep. 10 — “or get close enough that a strike will be

unnecessary.’’

Ask if CPS had budged on the question of pay, Vitale said: “We agreed early on that we weren’t going to negotiate in public and we’re not going to.”

However, he added, “I’m optimistic we’ll come to a solution. We’re working hard with them. I believe both sides do not want a strike and I believe we’ll get there.”

Lewis charged Wednesday that the decision to file an official intent to strike “after at least 10 calendar days’’ was a “difficult’’ one but was “the only way to get the [School] Board’s attention.’’

Talks have nailed down assurances that textbooks will be available on the first day of school, that teachers will have access to functioning computers and that counselors and social workers will

have workplaces to meet with students in private, Lewis said.

But too many key issues remain unresolved, she said.

Lewis Wednesday called an 11th-hour deal that secured Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s signature longer school day for kids — but not for teachers — “poorly thought out,” although Vitale noted that the union agreed to it.

CTU officials say the district continues to insist on a mere two percent raise, even though teachers lost a 4 percent negotiated raise last school year and are working 10 extra days this coming school year as part of Emanuel’s pledge to lengthen both the school day and year.

The union says it’s also fighting the district’s insistence on a form of merit pay that would award teachers bonuses based on improved student test scores. It’s also battling to retain so-called “step and lane’’ increases based on seniority and extra credentials.

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the former chairman of the City Council’s Education Committee now serving as the mayor’s City Council floor leader, acknowledged Wednesday that Emanuel might have to back off or modify his demand to eliminate “step and lane” increases.

“The goal is laudable, but it’s been there for decades. … I don’t know that you can just do away with it in one year of bargaining,” O’Connor said. “It might be something you have to shoot for over time, instead of in one-fell swoop.”

Last week, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Emanuel was preparing to “ratchet up” negotiations with the CTU by having a “second level of negotiations with more senior people” away from the same cast of characters currently at the bargaining table.

But O’Connor advised the mayor Wednesday not to take that step until the current talks appear to be “headed for a train wreck and it’s a choice between letting it crash or rushing in to give first aid.”

O’Connor said the ten-day notice came as no surprise to City Hall.

“All along, their strategy has been to clear the way for a strike if it comes to that. I don’t see it as particularly threatening or ominous. It’s just another opportunity for them to show that, if it

needs to be done, they’re willing to take that step,” O’Connor said.

“Depending on who you talk to, some people feel they’re bound and determined to go out. I continue to be optimistic that a strike can be avoided, although I’m not sure that optimism is shared throughout” City Hall.

Contributing: Maudlyne Ihejirika



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