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Teachers Union President: Strike Is Possible

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Chicago School Board

A special meeting of the Chicago School Board, to decide on whether to cancel a 4 percent pay raise for teachers for budget reasons. (Credit: CBS)

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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.

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