Chicago Board of Education President enters negotiating mix as potential teachers strike looms

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago Teachers Union officials don't believe enough progress has been made over a contract stalemate even though a new high-profile player joined the negotiating table Thursday.

With just one week to go until a potential strike by Chicago Public Schools teachers, Board of Education President Miguel del Valle took part in discussions for the first time.

But Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the two sides still remain far apart on the big issues, while the clock is ticking to hammer out the details that will help avoid a strike. CTU set a strike date for next Thursday, October 17.

Del Valle offered a friendly welcome to a CTU spokeswoman before the negotiating session began, and then offered a listening ear to the teachers at the table.

"The session that I was in was not a negotiation session per se, but it was an opportunity for me to speak to members and also for me to hear from members," Del Valle said. "They made some very, very thoughtful comments."

Del Valle said both sides realize they are running out of time.

But for the union, avoiding a strike rests on getting promises about key issues in writing.

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"It can be avoided if they give it to us in writing and they answer the things that we're asking for, the class-size issue, the services, clinicians and social workers, our kids are in need," said Carrene Beverly-Bass, a teacher and negotiator for the CTU. "I am in the classroom every day with the students."

Other labor issues are also in play.

Teachers from Passages Charter School in Edgewater are threatening to walk out October 22, saying they are overworked, underpaid and not respected.

The educators at Passages Charter School are demanding wage increases and protections for immigrant and refugee students.

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"It's unacceptable that we have teachers that have to work two to three jobs just to make ends meet," said math teacher Carol Paddock.

CPS support staff and Chicago Park District employees represented by SEIU Local 73, who are scheduled to walk out the same day as CTU, said negotiations were going nowhere.

"I'm here to let Mayor Lightfoot know that we are tired of being marginalized and ignored in our jobs and in negotiations," said Jonothan Williams, a special education classroom assistant.

CTU President Jesse Starkey said, "We have a mayor who is dangling pay in front of us and saying take the pay and shut up about school conditions, that's not going to be acceptable to us."

CPS is still offering teachers a 16% pay increase over five years. CTU said it's not about the money, instead they want Lightfoot to address classroom overcrowding.

"If she puts it in writing I think we can resolve this, but right now they're just stubbornly refusing to do that," Starkey said.

Lightfoot has said, "We think that we have actually put a very important financial package on the table to really uplift and recognize the quality of life for these workers."

As for contract negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union, the mayor said there has been progress, just not on the big issues. She continued her push back on the teachers for a comprehensive counter offer, also in writing.
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