Chicago teachers avoid a strike and get a new contract
Chicago public schools narrowly avoided a teacher strike on Tuesday, thanks to a last-minute agreement with district officials.
Chicago teachers had been working without a contract since November 2014. Chicago Public Schools laid off more than 1,000 staffers before the school year began and laid off 200 more Oct. 3, days after the Chicago Teachers Union announced it would begin a strike on Oct. 11 that would have continued until a new contract was negotiated.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia schools opened their doors for a “walk-in” Oct. 5, along with more 2,000 other schools around the country. During a walk-in, school buildings are open to the press, and staff are given an opportunity to raise awareness about local education policy issues. Philadelphia’s Caucus of Working Educators said its members pushed for the walk-in as a way to draw media attention to austere school budgets and build solidarity with parents and school communities.
The conditions in Chicago are strikingly similar to those in the Philadelphia School District.
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has been without a contract for more than 1,000 days. The Caucus of Working Educators proposed more active involvement by the union in pressuring the District to negotiate through union-wide work actions. Although state law prohibits Philadelphia teachers from striking at the threat of their teaching licenses being revoked, the caucus was successful in getting the PFT to organize a work-to-rule campaign, although the PFT did not follow the caucus’ organizing and outreach guidelines so only a few schools participated.
Larissa Pahomov, co-chair of the Caucus of Working Educators, said one of the biggest differences between the contract negotiations in Philadelphia and Chicago is that the Chicago Teachers Union engages in “big bargaining,” while PFT negotiates with a small team in secret and “it’s not even transparent who’s on the negotiating team.”
Big bargaining means negotiations must include at least one representative from each of the bargaining units — teachers, counselors, secretaries, etc. “It’s a more transparent approach,” Pahomov said.
The strike was authorized after the Chicago Teachers Union’s bargaining units rejected a proposed contract that would have required teachers to make the pension payments typically paid for by the city. The bargaining units also demanded a contract that would add $200 million to the district’s budget, paid for by Chicago’s Tax Increment Financing fund. This would have meant a roughly $500 increase in per-pupil spending.
Ultimately, the teachers’ union secured a deal with the district that added nearly $100 million to the budget using the financing fund and did not require existing teachers to pick up pension payments, but will require new teachers to do so — although they will be compensated with raises later in their careers. Union president Karen Lewis said the money will also help get adequate support staff for schools and reduce classroom sizes in elementary school.