Chicago Teachers Settle Contract

Against the Current, No. 186, January/February 2017

Robert Bartlett

AFTER MORE THAN a year without a contract, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) members voted by 14,388 to 5,585 in favor of a proposal reached hours before a strike. (For an account of the runup to the last-minute settlement, see from our previous issue, ATC 185.)

While an almost 3-1 vote in favor is decisive, the vote against is significant in showing both dissatisfaction and anger among teachers. Who voted against the contract?

One group campaigning against the contract were a segment of Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) members. Opposition centered around anger at abusive conditions in schools that have been imposed by the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Board of Education, the insecurity of teachers’ jobs as over 50 schools have been closed since 2012, and the loss of many teaching positions that heavily affect African-American teachers and other teachers with more experience.

Social workers voiced the view that the contract “has nothing in it for us.” Another sentiment was that if they had gone on strike they could have gotten even more concessions from Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Despite the dissatisfaction, several factors convinced a 72% majority of members to approve the contract. The major concession being demanded by the school board, elimination of the board picking up a 7% teacher pension fund payment, was withdrawn for current employees and offset by an equivalent raise for new employees.

Some further concessions on the part of the board makes it easier for teachers displaced by school closings to move to another position, and place a moratorium on charter school expansion for the term of the contract — a first for a negotiated agreement. An additional $50 million is pledged to fund 50 community schools in low income communities, with wrap-around services for students.

The contract has a structural problem of being seriously unfunded. To make the numbers work for the extra money the new contract calls for, the mayor had to shift funds from Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts to partially cover costs in the first year. This is a real victory for the union, which has campaigned against these slush funds that drain money from schools and other social services.

The mayor also counted on $215 million in funding from the state of Illinois that was contingent on the legislature passing teacher pension reform. No bill was passed and Governor Rauner has now refused to send the money, thereby blowing a hole in an already tenuous budget.

The response of Rahm is instructive. He immediately stated that students would suffer the consequences of the missing money, rather than the banks and other funding sources that could be tapped to adequately fund the schools.

Even more egregious was a practically simultaneous announcement by the CPS board and Rahm that the capital budget for the next year would rise from $338 million to $938 million. Included in this $600 million increase would be unspecified new buildings and annexes primarily on the northwest and southwest sides of the city, which are whiter and more affluent than the rest of Chicago.

This increase would be paid through issuing bonds that will further increase the debt of the system, not through going after new revenue that targets the rich or corporations. Also, despite the clause in the new contract calling for no further increase in the number of charters, two new charter schools are going forward.

We can expect that the pressures on Chicago (and other) teachers will continue with new right wing policies pushed by Trump’s new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a rabid advocate of charters and vouchers to support private and religious schools, and a resuscitation of the Friedrichs case denying public sector unions the right to collect fair-share fees once Trump appoints a new justice to the Supreme Court. We can also expect that the CTU will be unrelenting in continuing to fight for the schools all children deserve.

January-February 2017, ATC 186