CHICAGO—Today, the Chicago Teachers Union formally rejected the report of a ‘neutral’ fact-finder that backs Mayor Lightfoot’s proposal to lowball wages and benefits—particularly for low-wage school clerks, teaching assistants and other paraprofessionals.
CPS is proposing to spend less than one percent of its proposed $7.7 billion 2020 budget on additional wages for the CTU’s 25,000 members, despite eight years of pay freezes and furloughs that have failed to keep pace with inflation. That proposed budget also includes less than half the TIF funds schools are eligible with this year’s record TIF windfall.
Black women make up a significant portion of thousands of CPS paraprofessionals, whose wages are so low that two-thirds of their children qualify for free or reduced lunches under federal poverty guidelines. Lightfoot’s proposal will do nothing to change that stark reality. CPS is also seeking to jack up health insurance costs by 50% or more over the next five years, even though the district’s health care costs have essentially been flat since 2014.
But the factfinder also ignored other critical bargaining issues related to conditions in public schools, from chronic overcrowding in over a thousand classrooms to dangerous shortages of critical frontline staff and a persistent lack of resources in schools.
CPS is proposing to cut the budgets of over 200 schools, cut school librarians down to 108 for over 500 schools, cut the number of social workers, and reduce the number of budgeted certified school nurses by over 12% over FY19.
“CPS and the mayor can try to spin her numbers, but they don’t fool us,” said Sharkey. “We want to see immediate improvements coming in the form of increased spending on critical positions, enforceable limits on class sizes, and enforceable language that provides real justice for our students. We’ve lived with years of broken promises from CPS and the mayor who controls our schools. This mayor promised to be different. Yet neither her contract proposals nor her budget are different—they’re the same that we saw under Rahm for eight years. That’s not acceptable. We want those promises in writing—in an enforceable contract.”
Lightfoot promised again today in a press release to increase staffing for social workers, school nurses and case managers—but has yet to put those promises in writing in either a contract proposal or the proposed 2020 budget. Earlier this month, the mayor’s office reversed her campaign promise of a librarian in every school, saying it was ‘too expensive’—even though it would cost less than half of one percent of the proposed budget to keep that promise. Today the mayor said in a press conference that ‘there are not enough librarians who have applied for jobs’, according to WBEZ reporter Sarah Karp.
Sharkey scoffed at that claim. “CPS doesn’t have enough librarians because CPS doesn’t want enough librarians, just as CPS doesn’t want to improve the very working conditions it’s undermined for the last eight years,” said Sharkey. “Our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions, and this mayor promised to stop starving our schools. There is no place we’d rather be than in our classrooms educating our schoolchildren. But if it takes a strike to force the 5th floor to keep the mayor’s campaign promises, we will see her on the picket line.”
Former Mayor Emanuel imposed the fact-finding process on Chicago’s unionized teachers, paraprofessionals, clinicians and support staff in 2011, in state legislation that was written by Mayor Lightfoot’s—and previously Emanuel’s and Daley’s—lead attorney in bargaining. The union’s formal response—either acceptance or rejection of the report—is one of a series of legally required steps in the negotiations process.
The union’s rejection of the factfinder report sets the clock ticking down to a possible strike as early as September 25.
“After three rounds of statutory fact-finding in 2012, 2015
and now, fact-finding can be confirmed as a total failure in identifying possible terms for contract settlements,” CTU attorney Robert Bloch said in the union’s formal notice of rejection to the fact-finder.
The union is calling for the process to be scrapped, along with Section 4.5 of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act, part of a 1995 amendment to the IELRA that restricted CTU members’ bargaining rights and handed total control of the school district to the mayor. At Lightfoot’s behest, Senate President John Cullerton put a brick on legislation this spring that would have restored those bargaining rights, as well as legislation that would have allowed Chicagoans to elect their school board members as residents in every other school district in the state do.