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Lewis Slams CPS For Proposing "Strike Worthy" End To Pension Pickup

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis on Friday painted a grim picture of ongoing contract talks with the Chicago Public Schools, calling the district's rejection of a possible one-year deal a "breach of trust."

While she also said the district's push to stop paying a 7 percent pension pickup was "strike worthy," Lewis also said she doesn't want another walkout.

"The new CEO, who has apparently directed CPS not to honor the deferred payment pickup, will impose a 7 percent pay cut in an effort to force us into another strike," she said at a Friday news conference at CTU headquarters.

Since 1981, CPS has paid 7 of the 9 percent of salary teachers must pay toward their pension contributions. The district offered teachers the so-called "pension pickup" in lieu of raises CPS claimed it could not afford back then. Lewis said eliminating the pension pickup now, as CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool has suggested, would amount to an unacceptable 7 percent paycut for teachers.

"To take a 7 percent paycut is strike worthy," Lewis said.

She might publicly discuss what's "strike worthy" about the district's contract demands, but in a one-on-one conversation with WBBM Political Editor Craig Dellimore, she said talks with CPS have been cordial.


When asked what would happen if state lawmakers vote to force teachers to pay the full cost of their pension contributions, Lewis said "what I would hope they would do is phase this in, and not make it a radical cut."

"I know they want to … they would want to take the whole 7 percent at once," she added.

CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool has suggested teachers should pay the full cost of their pension contributions if state lawmakers don't approve the a pension overhaul plan.

Lewis said the two sides were close to a one-year contract agreement that would have given CPS time to address its budget crisis, and find some help from state lawmakers, but said "that rug was pulled out from under us" during the latest talks this week.

"They could've been the heroes in this, but instead, Sheriff Claypool has decided to just blow things up and show us how tough he can be," Lewis said.

An attorney for the union said teachers will return to school without a contract. While they could vote to authorize a strike at any time, various legal requirements the teachers face mean they couldn't walk out until the winter at the earliest.

Lewis is the guest on this weekend's edition of "At Issue," airing Sunday at 9:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9FM.

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