Teachers Union President: Strike Is Possible

UPDATED 06/16/11 11:35 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago Teachers Union has decided to go back to the bargaining table rather than simply allow the school board to take away teacher pay raises for next year.

As WBBM Newsradio 780’s Regine Schlesinger reports, the union says a strike is not out of the question.

On Wednesday, the Chicago School Board voted to cancel a promised 4 percent raise for teachers, on the grounds that the school system simply cannot afford it.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday morning that the labor disputes among teachers do not benefit the children who depend on the schools.

“Teachers got two types of pay raises, and people in public life got labor peace,” Emanuel said. “Can anybody explain to me what the children got?”

But the union is not conceding and accepting the decision.

CTU president Karen Lewis says the union will sit down to renegotiate the pay package that the board canceled. She will not make any predictions about how the talks might end.

“This is a brand new board. This is a brand new CEO. We have not started out on any footing of a relationship. Obviously, this is not the way I’d like to start,” Lewis said.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Regine Schlesinger reports

The pay raise was mandated in a contract negotiated with the teachers in 2007. But CPS is now facing a $712 million budget shortfall, and the 4 percent raises for the teachers accounted for nearly $100 million of that shortfall.

Teachers are complaining that they will now lose out on a pay raise while being asked for more work. Mayor Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools chief executive officer Jean-Claude Brizard want to add at least an hour to the school day, following legislation signed this week by Gov. Pat Quinn.

Emanuel on Thursday took a hard line, praising the school board decision, Newsradio 780 Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports. He pointed out that teachers will still get a separate, smaller raise.

“Teachers got two types of pay raises and people in public life got labor peace,” Emanuel said. “Can anybody explain to me what the children got? I know what everybody else got. We have the shortest school day and school year in the county.”

LISTEN: Newsradio 780 Political Editor Craig Dellimore Reports

Teachers have gotten contractual 4 percent pay hikes the past four years. Administrators and other non-union employees haven’t seen raises in two years, and were forced to take as many as 15 unpaid furlough days this year.

And, most teachers making an average of $69,000 a year would still be getting so-called step or seniority raises of $2,100 to $2,800 dollars a year, even if the raise specified in the contract was canceled. But teachers point out that even with their average salaries, they still must take continuing education classes and sometimes buy classroom supplies out of their own pockets.

Lewis said the denial of the pay raise could set the standard for the first Chicago teachers’ strike in 24 years.

“This action that the board takes – and they knew very well – could lead to a strike, so that’s what that’s about,” Lewis said. “This is not about, ‘We’re going to strike.’ I did not say that. I did say these are actions that could lead to a strike.”

Lewis continued: “It very well could (lead to a strike), but the operative word here is ‘could.’ That would be the will of the membership.”

The last teachers’ strike was in the fall of 1987 when Harold Washington was mayor, and lasted four weeks. It was similarly prompted by the denial of a pay raise the Chicago Board of Education said it couldn’t afford, according to past published reports.

The 1987 teachers’ strike was the ninth in the Chicago Public Schools system in 18 years, but a long labor peace has ensued in the nearly quarter century since. Now, Lewis says the new School Board is to blame for upsetting the peace.

  • johnt

    This Karen Lewis beast continues to try to justify her own job by constantly causing trouble. It is obvious she is not going hungry.

  • Bob

    4% raise??? are you kidding…..we’re lucky if we get 2% at our company.

  • Curt

    You were promised a pay raise along with the rest of the country, then something called the recession happened! I am a federal employee and we were supposed to get raises as well, but hte president put the stop to raises for federal workers for 2 years, and that’s OK with me! There are plenty of people out there without jobs, taking furlough days, etc for me to complain. Learn to live within your means and you will be fine!

    • Roberta Waker

      I’m sure there are a lot of qualified people out there that would work for a little more than half the money and do a good job with the kids. My raise was ZERO; yours should be the same until the economy picks up. If they do strike; I hope it lasts for a long time, but that won’t happen because the parents would have to pay for babysitters since the kids won’t be in school. Isn’t blackmail illegal?

  • billyd

    How many chins does that Karen Lewis guy have, anyway? He’s the perfect face of the union – ugly, bloated and mean.

  • John

    Our company has not been able to give raises for over 5 years. If teachers received 4% the last 8 years without interruption, they ought to count their blessings and shut the hell up. Those of us in the ‘real world’ are nearly as fortunate.

    • Roberta Waker

      Right you are. Time for them to tighten their belts like we have had to do.

    • andy

      Yep, we’ve gone 5 years without a raises too. I’m pro-union, but I can def see why unions are losing support.

  • Lew

    Teachers only work 9 months out of the year. In addition, they get 2 weeks off for winter vacation and 1 week off for spring break. Let’s not forget about their institute days, snow days, or other useless day offs like Pulaski Day. To compound matters, our public schools are becoming failure factories that turn out losers instead of leaders. These people demand raises yet do not work a full schedule and suck at their jobs. Only in Democratic Chicago.

  • Gail

    Some of the teachers will be getting step raises, so if they get the 4% are they going to give one raise back, as this would be double raises for some in a year where a lot of us at private companies have gotten nothing in 3 years. I bet there are a lot of out of work teachers that would love to take the place of some of the ones complaining about not getting their 4% and decide to strike!

  • Cameltoe Rancher

    We could use a little more chlorine in the pool.

    Ripping on the union leader because she is overweight? Now THAT is an intelligent stance to take!

    I hope sincerely that none of you reproduce.

    • ChicagoCitizen

      It’s not our fault this Jabba the Hut looking woman is an unsavory individual.

  • Cameltoe Rancher

    Better yet- move to Vancouver and enroll your brats in parochial school!

  • billyd

    No worries about the chlorine. The pool’s closed indefinitely due to a lack of funding.

  • Cameltoe Rancher


    Perhaps just close the public schools as well, yes?

    • Roberta Waker

      Are you aware that many children in Chicago are being educated via the internet from INDIA? They NEVER go on strike and make a lot less then our teachers. Might want to switch over to India to educate all of our children; it would be a lot cheaper and the kids are supposedly getting a better education.

  • Jim

    The step increase AND 4%?! That equates to about $5k per teacher. I think Rahm needs to take them to the cleaners with the new negotiations…remember it’s for the kids! Maybe we could actually get a contract that reflects that!

  • Cameltoe Rancher

    Underpaid teachers are good for kids?

    Are you nuts?

    AND, you believe what that White House-slimy clown says?


    • Roberta Waker

      You think $69,000 a year for 9 months work is underpaid? I have not received a raise in three years, yet we are on a fixed income and expected to survive. The teachers are lucky they got raises last year; maybe they should think of the kids and tighten their belts like everyone else has to do. If the economy picks up (when Obama leaves office) maybe we can ALL get raises. This is not the time to fight for raises.

  • Larry

    76 % of the teachers will be getting step raises PLUS 4% increase.Many of these teachers are on the bottom for skills and achievments FIRE all of them if they strike.

  • What!?!

    How much they make at this point is moot. The fact is, there is simply no money for raises. They can strike for however long they want, it won’t change the fact that there is no money to give raises out of. The city, country, state, and federal governments are all running huge deficits and are deeply in debt. If there isn’t any money to give, there isn’t any money to give. This is just the beginning folks, our country as we know it, is about to change. Get used to it……because whether we like it or not, things are going to change. All levels of government are in debt, and taxpayers cannot give more of their money. Taxpayers are having to watch every dime that they earn, the government should have been doing the same for decades, and we wouldn’t be at this point now.

  • wpnikkijamesr8

    Superb web-site by Celsa Frisbie

  • markees III

    If they strikes how i get educated to be architect or astronaut?

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