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Mayor Lori Lightfoot Demands Written Contract Terms From Chicago Teachers Union; 'We Can't Bargain Against Ourselves'

by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer

CHICAGO (CBS) -- With a possible teachers' strike only 10 days away, Mayor Lori Lightfoot accused the Chicago Teachers Union of not providing the Chicago Public Schools with a detailed contract proposal to counter the offers the district has made over the last several months.

"I'm concerned that CTU leadership is not exhibiting the sense of urgency needed to move these negotiations forward in a substantive way to avoid a strike, to advance our shared mission of serving Chicago's youth," Lightfoot said Monday morning at City Hall.

They mayor said her administration has presented several lengthy contract offers to the union, but hasn't received a comprehensive counter-proposal since she took office 141 days ago. She also claimed the union has not moved on most of its key bargaining positions in nine months.

"CTU has not moved off of any of their main opening positions that they gave back in January of this year. That's not how bargaining works," she said. "We have moved and met them on issue after issue."

Lightfoot said, in order to make progress in negotiations and avoid a strike, CTU needs to put its demands in writing.

"We can't bargain against ourselves. We need to have them at the table with a comprehensive counteroffer on the substantive issues that really are going to form the heart of the contract. If we do that, we can get there," she said. "I can't respond to something that I haven't seen in writing. They need to put together – whatever their issues are – a counter response, in writing, that covers the range of all the issues. If they do that, we have something that we can respond to."

CTU countered that, while the mayor and CPS leadership have said they are committed to reducing class sizes and hiring more nurses, librarians, social workers, and counselors, they have refused to write those promises into their contract proposals.

"It doesn't take more than a sentence to say, 'Put your promise in writing,'" Ashe Elementary School teacher Robin Blake Boose said in a statement.

In a statement, the union said it has routinely offered counterproposals, calling the district's offers "terminally inadequate."

"The consensus from the rank-and-file bargaining team is that Board has done more stalling and stonewalling during negotiations than actual bargaining," union spokesperson Chris Geovanis wrote in a response to the mayor's statements.

The mayor said the city's most recent offer, totaling about 50 pages, was sent to the union on Sept. 27, but the teachers responded only with five sheets of paper.

"What we got back on Friday doesn't address any of the substantive issues; compensation, insurance, staffing, any of those issues," Lightfoot said. "141 days and all we have to show for it is five pieces of paper? That's not moving things forward in a way that I know that we can and we need to."

However, Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey has said the city's contract proposals have been flatly unacceptable, and the union has rejected them. He also said the district has not responded to its demands when it comes to staffing -- particularly, hiring more nurses, librarians, social workers, and counselors.

"It doesn't require me to write a dissertation to say we are not giving back prep time. I can make a valid response with two letters and a punctuation mark: no, period," he said last week. "Does it sound like we're two ships passing in the night? Perhaps it sounds like that, but we have principles about what we're trying to see in our schools."

The union has set an Oct. 17 strike deadline to reach a tentative agreement on a new contract, but Lightfoot said realistically a deal needs to be done by Oct. 16, so it can be put into writing and presented to the union's delegates to sign off before the strike deadline.

"Recently, instead of meeting us at the bargaining table to solve problems, our counterparts have focused their energy on preparing for a strike rather than avoiding one," the mayor said.

CTU leaders have said the city's current proposal isn't good enough for its 25,000 members. The district has offered a total 16% pay raise over a five-year contract, while the teachers have proposed a 15% pay raise over a shorter three-year deal. The dispute over pay raises aside, the union wants CPS to hire more social workers, counselors, nurses, and librarians.

CPS Chief Executive Officer Dr. Janice Jackson said the district already has committed to a five-year plan to hire hundreds of nurses, social workers, and case managers, and has budgeted millions of dollars this school year to hire 95 new staffers "as a down payment on that commitment."

However, the union has demanded that the mayor and CPS put a commitment to hire additional nurses, librarians, social workers, and counselors in writing in the contract, not simply budget for them, claiming the district has broken staffing promises in the past.


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