Chicago Teachers Union rejects contract offer, moves closer to possible strike

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago Public School teachers are one step closer to a possible strike after rejecting the city's latest contract offer.

CPS increased its offer to teachers after a recommendation from an independent fact finder, but the union rejected the fact finder's report, setting the state for a potential strike if a deal isn't reached in the next 30 days.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot welcomed CPS teachers back to their classrooms Monday, and is hoping they will have a new contract by the time school starts on September 3. The city is sweetening the deal by upping its offer of a 14 percent raise over the next five years to 16 percent.

"This would represent the largest and most robust salary and benefit package in CTU history," Lightfoot said.

With built-in increases for years of service, CPS said a teacher currently making $79,000 will make almost $98,000 in five years. The deal also requires teachers to pay one percent more in total for health care in the final three years of the contract.

But the CTU rejected the offer.

"We are holding out hope that bargaining will get effective, but until that does this is a union that is prepared to do what it takes in order to get a fair agreement," said CTU President Jesse Sharkey.

The union is threatening to strike, saying the city's offer comes after a decade of pay freezes, furloughs and layoffs. Besides pay, teachers are demanding enforceable class size limits and an increase in staffing.

"We need to see the schools commit to hiring social workers, librarians, counselors, people who work in special education classrooms," Sharkey said.

CPS said those issues fall outside of bargaining, and that the school district is already making those investments.

"We announced a plan this fall to increase the number of social workers, nurses and case managers to our highest need schools," said CPS CEO Janice Jackson.

"While we've seen press releases about the things that this mayor is going to do, we have not yet seen those things reduced to writing," Sharkey countered.

Lightfoot said the city's 16 percent offer is one it can afford without stretching resources.

"There is no reason there should be a strike," she said.

There is a mandatory 30-day cooling off period after the union rejects a fact finder report before they can strike, so the earliest teachers could walk off the job is likely the end of September. Union members must also vote to authorize a strike first.

Both sides said they are committed to continuing talks.
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