Despite Strike Threat, Chicago Schools to Open As Scheduled

The Chicago Teachers Union has yet to file a 10 day strike notice, and union President Karen Lewis has said there are no immediate plans to do so — which means students in Chicago will definitely return to school on time on September 4th. However, a strike notice is widely anticipated to occur soon as the threat of an early strike would give the union additional leverage at the bargaining table. They may also wait until the two sides are a little closer together so that the strike could be leveraged into a concrete deal.

At the moment the two sides are still worlds apart on the matters of teacher compensation, evaluation of performance and job security.

According to material presented to the union's House of Delegates on Wednesday, the district's latest salary offer is a 2 percent raise in each of the four years of the contract, with merit pay tying wage increases to student performance in the final year. The district also wants to eliminate automatic annual raises tied to experience.

Chicago Public Schools officials said their proposal is 2 percent over each of the contract's four years and is not tied to merit pay.

By contrast, the union's counteroffer remains at a heavily front-loaded 22% pay increase over two years; 19% in the first and 3% in the second. The union also wants to create a permanent system for rehiring laid off teachers.

Union leaders, including Lewis and Jesse Sharkey, the Chicago Teachers Union vice president, spent Friday morning at the Red Line stop at 95th Street handing out fliers to local commuters and trying to drum up local public support.

"Good morning brother, support public schools," Lewis said as she handed a flier to a man walking by.

Joel Hood of the Chicago Tribune reported that the union effort had all the hallmarks of a grassroots political campaign, which is a fairly apt comparison. The union's key bargaining chip is that of being able to strike. A teachers strike will, however, cause significant disruption to the lives of many Chicago citizens as well as impacting their children's quality of education. The CTU is working hard to win the hearts and minds of the local community because who the Chicago public blames for the almost inevitable strike will be key to the outcome of negotiations.

"We're relying on pressure from not only our members but also the public to improve our position at the bargaining table," union Vice President Jesse Sharkey said. "If the public is calling for many of the same things we're calling for, a fair contract and smaller class sizes, then that helps."

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