Union and Chicago Schools Both Set to Reject Arbitration Report

In what could be considered a hopeful sign for the future, Chicago Public Schools and the city’s teachers union found a point of agreement — as both are poised to reject the arbitrator’s report on the new contract negotiation scheduled to be released later this week. Although the final report hasn’t been made public, the provision that turned both sides of the contentious contract negotiation against it is the expected recommendation that the district hike teachers’ salaries by between 15 and 20 percent in the coming year.

The salary recommendation comes as a result of the lengthened school day scheduled to go into effect next year. District officials say that such a huge hike in pay would be ruinous for the city’s education system — a projected to be in a $665 deficit next year. It has already forced to dip into its cash reserves to cover the operating shortfall as well as to fund the pension payments due in 2014.

The Chicago Teachers Union’s rationale for rejecting the proposal are less clear. When the negotiations began, the union was demanding a 30% salary bump over two years to compensate the teachers for the longer hours they were going to be expected to work. In light of that demand, Chicago Tribune writers Noreen A. Ahmed-Ullah and Joel Hood believe that it’ll be a challenge for the union leaders to explain why they are unsatisfied with the arbitrator’s suggested raise since it well exceeds the district’s current offer of 2% pay adjustment.

On Sunday, union Vice President Jesse Sharkey, who declined to comment on the arbitrator’s report, said the union must consider many issues beyond wages.

“We’ve said to our teachers that we want fair compensation,” Sharkey said. “We’ve also said we want a better (school) day and we want to make sure class sizes don’t spike. (Our members) know that we simply don’t have a wage demand.”

The arbitrator’s nonbinding report, which was due Monday, now will be given to both sides Wednesday. CTU leaders will meet Wednesday with the union’s House of Delegates to discuss the report. Once either side rejects the report, talks must continue for 30 days before a walkout can occur.

While both sides awaited the report, contract negotiations stalled — and now the odds that the sides will come to an agreement soon are grim. While CPS and CTA were going through mandated arbitration, the union leadership put a strike authorization proposal in front of the membership. It was approved with nearly 90% of voters supporting the action.