Chicago Teachers Union president threatens strike

Chicago Teachers Union president threatens strike

The Chicago Teachers Union is threatening to strike, as negotiations with the city begin to stretch into the coming school year. It would be the union’s third strike in seven years.

Ahead of the coming school year, union leaders in Chicago are greeting public school families with a familiar threat: the possibility of a teacher strike.

As contract negotiations with newly-elected Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot have grown increasingly tense, the Chicago Teachers Union, or CTU, threatened on July 12 to walk out on students before the school year had even begun.

In an email, according to Crain’s Chicago Business, CTU President Jesse Sharkey said, “Candidate Lightfoot has vowed there will be no teachers strike on her watch. Mayor Lightfoot has a month to make good on that and her campaign promises.”

The threat of a strike comes as city leaders and CTU negotiate a new contract after their previous agreement expired June 30.

Lightfoot offered the CTU a pay increase of 14% over five years, which would cost taxpayers $300 million over that time. That offer fell short of the 5%-per-year increase demanded by the CTU, which would compound to a 27% pay increase over five years.

Lightfoot’s $300 million offer came after the mayor proposed the state bail out the city’s pension funds, an idea rejected by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Lightfoot has also floated a “service tax” to shore up the city’s pensions.

A costly new contract with the CTU is only likely to worsen the city’s unfunded pension liability.

CTU members are already the highest-paid teachers in the nation among those in larger school districts with bachelor’s degrees and five years of experience. Chicago Public Schools, or CPS, also pays the second- and third-highest salaries to first-year teachers with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, respectively, among those larger districts.

If CTU calls a strike, it would be its third in seven years. In 2012, the union went on strike for nine days. This left thousands of students with nowhere to go during the day and contributed to schools closures and teacher layoffs. CTU also called a one-day strike in 2016, which the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board later determined was likely illegal.

The push for increased pay also comes as CPS confronts severe financial difficulties. The Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund is $9.5 billion short of fully funding pension obligations. A significant CTU salary bump would only increase those obligations, pushing the retirement system closer to insolvency.

Another excessive increase in CTU pay and benefits would not address the structural issues facing the CPS system. City leaders should focus on improving educational outcomes, fixing the school system’s finances and making Illinois students competitive with the rest of the nation.

Instead of continuing the same cycle of mismanagement and overspending, CTU should finally put students first.

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