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Thousands Take To The Streets During Downtown Rush Hour As The Chicago Teachers Union Voices Its Opposition To The School District's Move To Slash Budgets & Stop Paying Much Of Teachers' Pension Contributions

Published Friday, February 5, 2016
by The Chicago Tribune

(CHICAGO) - Throngs of protesters organized by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) clogged Loop streets during Thursday (February 4th) evening’s rush hour to voice opposition to the Chicago Public School District's move to slash budgets and stop paying much of the Teachers' Pension Contributions.  The show of force by the Union's rank-and-file came three days after a 40-person bargaining team unanimously voted down the District’s four-year contract offer.

Christa Lohman, a member of the CTU's “Big Bargaining Team," said the district's offer was vague and included language Teachers thought was aimed at forcing them into accepting a deal.  "No economic layoffs ‘sounds fabulous,’" Lohman said during a march to City Hall as news helicopters hovered overhead. "But we've ‘been around awhile.’  After fifteen years, you start to think ‘that never happens.’"

As protesters surrounded Bank of America's local headquarters and blocked traffic, CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said the bargaining team's rejection of the city's offer was "a sign we have a serious democratic process."  "The leadership recognizes that there was a ‘serious attempt’ on the part of the district to offer ‘some things that we're interested in,’" Sharkey said. "And what we heard ‘loud and clear’ from our rank-and-file is that ‘we don't trust the district enough’ just to have assurances and promises.  There ‘can't be big loopholes’ in that."

In addition to barring economic layoffs, the offer from CPS provided some moderate pay increases and put a cap on the number of privately run charter schools.

Union Leaders deemed it a "serious offer" before it was rebuffed Monday by the bargaining team.

One day later, the district said it would end the pension pickup as soon as next month and cut $75 million from school budgets this year - a directive that left principals scrambling to determine how the cuts will affect their schools.

District CEO Forrest Claypool said earlier this week he thinks Union Leadership wants to get a deal done: "I've ‘never known’ a Union Leader who’s taken a contract to its Members that they ‘did not believe was viable,’" Claypool said.

"I have ‘no idea’ what goes (on) inside the CTU Union and its internal politics, I really don't," Claypool said. "I do see a ‘sincere effort’ by (CTU President) Karen Lewis, Jesse Sharkey and other members of CTU to get a deal, to get a deal.  We ‘both want’ a deal.  We ‘have to have’ a deal."

Union Leaders acknowledged the bargaining team has broad authority to guide CTU's negotiating position.

"That certainly hasn't been the ‘conventional practice’ in CPS and CTU, nor is it that ‘conventional’ in a lot of bargaining that happens in Chicago or anywhere else," said Robert Bruno, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's School of Labor & Employment Relations.  "We see ‘strong’ leadership and we ‘expect’ leaders on both sides always to be in sort of ‘commanding’ positions, but this is ‘genuinely’ a Democratic Union.  This is what it looks like."

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