There's a lot riding on current negotiations between Chicago school administrators and leaders of the teachers' union.
If new Mayor Lori Lightfoot didn’t have enough problems — mostly financial — on her plate, there’s another big one looming on the horizon.
The city’s school administration has failed to reach a contract settlement with its politically powerful teachers’ union, and the stage is set for a strike.
Union leaders say they are confident that at least 75 percent of members will authorize a strike when they start voting on Tuesday. Because the union is required to give school administrators 10 days notice of a walkout, the union could go out as early as Oct. 10
Or the teachers’ union, purely for tactical reasons, could wait to see if district employees represented by the Service Employees International Union — security guards, bus drivers, special education aides — decide that they, too, are walking out and join them.
The stage, obviously, is set for mass chaos, putting even greater pressure on Lightfoot to make concessions.
The real issues, of course, are pay and benefits. But the union also is flexing its muscle to force other costly concessions.
“We are not seeing eye to eye with the board right now on pay and benefits. We’re not where we need to be on staffing promises to make our schools better; we haven’t gotten an agreement on class size. There are a lot of sticking points,” said teachers’ union chief Jesse Sharkey.
The school district has proposed a 16 percent raise over a five-year proposed contract. Including step increases teachers receive based on experience, the average teacher would receive a 24 percent increase over the life of the contract. That’s a 4.8 percent raise a year.
The union, however, is demanding a 15 percent raise over three years. That — plus step increases — would be a huge get for the union.
The school district, like most school districts, is at a disadvantage.
In the private sector — the ongoing strike at General Motors, for example — both union and management stand to lose if there’s a strike. Union members lose their pay and benefits while management forgoes lost profits.
As a consequence, each side has a financial incentive to reach an agreement and avert a walkout or quickly end the strike.
That is not the case with a teachers’ strike because any lost school days will be made up at the end of the year. While teachers may endure the inconvenience of a strike, they don’t lose any of their pay.
The last teachers’ strike in Chicago occurred seven years ago during the tenure of former Mayor Rahm Emanuel. At the time, the self-styled tough guy Emanuel was his usual insulting self regarding the teachers’ union, one of the factors that stoked teachers’ appetite for a walkout. In the end, the union won concessions that represented a huge setback for the mayor.
Since then, the teachers’ union has been riding high. As this strike looms, union leaders obviously feel like they’re in position to wring additional concessions from management.
Lightfoot, of course, is desperate to avoid a strike, the kind of thing that angers parents and diminishes the mayor’s stature in the public eye. But there’s a limit to how much she can offer on behalf of a deeply troubled school district that serves the children in a deeply troubled city.