Some were surprised when the Chicago Teachers Union bargaining team voted “no” on Chicago Public Schools’ proposed contract. As a CPS teacher and parent of three CPS students, I was very excited the possibility of a contract was near without necessitating a strike.
The CPS offer basically froze compensation for most teachers for four years. I was OK with that, even though CPS has taken back about $2 billion from teachers in the past five years in concessions. I like the idea of getting rid of the pension pick-up, but I don’t want teachers to suffer what amounts to 7-percent pay cuts to achieve it. Some teachers would have come out with a tiny pay increase over four years, but other teachers — longer serving teachers — would have had to take a significant pay cut.
There were good things in the contract proposal, things for which our bargaining team has been fighting for over a year. There was some movement on issues such as standardized testing, teacher paperwork, evaluation and other nonmonetary concessions by CPS. This is good. These things are not small. These matter to our students and to our ability to do our jobs.
The CPS tentative agreement’s “charter freeze” sounded like a great win, until folks realized it was completely unenforceable because the Illinois State Charter School Commission can override school boards on charter application denials. The promise to avoid “economic layoffs” seems too good to be true; in the past, CPS has gotten very creative in finding ways to lay off teachers.
This week, Emanuel’s fuzzy sweater came off. We’re seeing the CPS that was always under the surface, the CPS that is headed by Emanuel’s Downsizer-in-Chief, Forrest Claypool. CPS said that, because we did not accept its proposal, it would unilaterally force principals to lay off $50 million worth of teachers and support staff while forcing us to take a 7-percent pay cut by ending the contractually defined pension pick-up. This isn’t a negotiating position, it’s a direct threat that is supposed to go into effect in the next 30 days.
The union’s response is to organize and oppose Emanuel and Rauner. We will be rallying downtown. We will be putting the financial sector in the spotlight. CPS soon may be spending more on financing debt than it will be spending on pensions. The real culprit here? The lack of political will to raise revenues in a fair and transparent way; the diversion of TIF money from schools, libraries and parks to what amounts to a real estate developer subsidy; and decades of pension theft via “pension holidays.”
Sure, Emanuel has taken his sweater off. So 20,000 teachers and supporters are putting their red shirts on.
— Phillip Cantor, Chicago