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Brizard Says He Wants Raise For Teachers; CTU’s Lewis Says Offers Are Not Enough

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Jean-Claude Brizard, Karen Lewis

Chicago Public Schools chief executive officer Jean-Claude Brizard and Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis. (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago Public Schools chief executive officer Jean-Claude Brizard says he wants teachers to have a raise, and is asking the Chicago Teachers Union to hold off on its strike authorization vote set for this coming Wednesday.

But union President Karen Lewis says Brizard has never been to a negotiation session and doesn’t understand what is actually happening. Meanwhile, she also says it is no surprise that CPS wants the union to hold off until a proposed agreement is drawn up by an independent fact-finder in July for a strike vote – given that school will be out and teachers will be home by then.

Speaking on the CBS 2 Morning News Monday, Brizard said having the strike vote this week while school is still in session does not benefit anyone.

“Having this vote this week does not do our kids service; does not do our families service. The fact is when you look at SEIU, UNITE HERE Local 1, when two sides come together, even if they fall apart, they can come to a resolution; come to a common ground – if we’re willing to follow the process and protocol set in play,” he said.

Non-educational CPS employees represented by UNITE HERE Local 1, and more recently by the Service Employees International Union, have reached agreements with CPS.

Brizard said it is perfectly legitimate for teachers to be concerned about their salaries.

“We want teachers to get paid. We want them to be paid well. As a teacher, I can tell you – in education, we don’t really reward people enough for the work that they do. We want to see them get a raise,” he said.

But Brizard says he also wants teachers to hold off on a strike authorization vote until the salary issue is addressed by the independent fact-finding report set to come out July 16.

“Right now, (the teachers) have no information to base their vote,” Brizard said.

Brizard also said a 30 percent raise the union is purported to have proposed is simply too much.

“Absolutely, and I’ve been very public that we can’t afford 30 percent. We expect teachers to get a raise, and we’re going to make sure that happens. Thirty percent may be too much. The system can’t afford it,” he said. “I’d love to give them as much as I can. But let’s be responsible to our kids, our families and our taxpayers.”

But Lewis said the union never asked for a 30 percent raise to begin with.

“We did not ask for 30 percent, but if they need to round up, they need to round up,” she said.

Earlier reports said the union had proposed a 24 percent raise, while CPS had proposed a 2 percent raise. Brizard said previously that perhaps the number that will be agreed on will be somewhere in between, that those numbers may be “beginning places.”

But when it comes to the fact-finding report due out July 16 that will address salary issues, Lewis says it will not settle everything in the teachers’ contract even if the teachers do agree to its provisions.

“Fact-finding will not be our contract. It will be a very, very small portion of the contract that will only cover maybe three, four or five at the most, issues,” she said. “We have an extraordinarily complicated contract because of what we do, so it is not as simple as what other people would suggest, so regardless of what comes out of the fact-finding, we still have a large amount of the contract to negotiate.”

She also said it was no surprise that CPS wants teachers to wait until July to take a strike vote, given that school will be out by then.

“Teachers and paraprofessionals and clinicians are at work, and they won’t be in July, so it’s obvious that that’s when they would like to have a strike authorization vote,” she said. “It’s ridiculous.”

She also said Brizard is not as well-informed on the teachers’ issues as he appears to be.

“Brizard has not been at any of the negotiations. He doesn’t really have an idea of what’s going on. I mean, he’s being fed information,” she said. “It would be nice if he would actually come, so he could see how the process works.”

CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov pointed out that some critics have said the CTU is being run by “radicals” who want to go on strike rather than settle with CPS on a new contract. Lewis did not agree, but she said CPS is unwilling to come up with a proposal that meets teachers’ needs, like the school system did with janitors, school bus aides and other non-educational staff.

“Our goal is to get a contract, and that is extremely important to our members, and fortunately, what the board is offering – unlike SEIU and UNITE HERE, who have settled contracts; who have job security, you know, they have jobs not being outsourced – they got very good pieces of issues that they had on the table. Right now, that’s not what’s happening,” Lewis said.

She also said there is nothing “radical” about what the teachers want.

“It’s easy for them to try to paint us as being radical, when what we’re trying to do – to provide solutions that are best for kids. So I don’t know how asking for 160 libraries; I don’t know how asking for art, music, PE and world languages for our students is a radical notion,” Lewis said.

The vote will be taken Wednesday. A strike authorization vote would not necessarily mean there will be a strike. It would empower the union negotiating committee to call a strike if and when it so chooses.

But relations between the CTU and Chicago Public Schools – and City Hall – have been poor as Mayor Rahm Emanuel has aggressively pursued a longer school day over the objections of union officials who have advised more caution in implementing the plan.

The union has accused Emanuel, Brizard, and the Chicago Board of Education of leaving teachers out of efforts to improve schools and forcing them to accept a longer school day and longer school year without explaining how to pay for it or use the extra time to benefit students.

When talk of a strike began mounting earlier this month, the mayor said it was a distraction from the teachers’ real job.

Chicago teachers have not gone on strike since 1987. Back then, the teachers only needed a simple majority to authorize a strike. Now, they need 75 percent of membership to vote in favor of a strike in order to hold a walkout.

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