Illinois Employment Contract Dispute erupts in Chicago

In an interesting new development in Illinois employment law, the Chicago Teachers Union issued a 10-day strike notice Wednesday, saying teachers in the nation’s third-largest school district are ready to walk off the job for the first time in 25 years. Contract talks have now failed with the Chicago Board of Education. The main issue on the lips of teachers is wages, but job security and teacher evaluations are also some of the key points of dispute.

The Union president said “This is a difficult decision for all of us to make,” “But this is the only way to get the board’s attention and show them that we are serious about getting a fair contract which will give our students the resources they deserve.”

Some of the district’s 400,000 students have already started school; the rest begin Tuesday. The last Chicago teachers strike was in 1987 and lasted 19 days. The most recent contract expired in June, when 90 percent of the more than 26,000 union members voted to authorize a strike if a contract was not reached over the summer.

The school district has offered teachers a four-year contract with raises of 2 percent a year, which school board spokeswoman Becky Carroll said would cost $160 million. Lewis has repeatedly said the raise offered by the board is not acceptable. The district also wants the union to agree to a joint committee to come up with a new system to pay teachers, other than automatic raises based on seniority. The district said that doesn’t mean pay raises would necessarily be based only on merit.

“It could take a lot of forms; we have not even talked about it,” Carroll said.

The board last week authorized spending $25 million in the event of a strike, which Carroll said would help ensure the tens of thousands of students who rely on the schools for two meals a day are fed and have a safe place during the day. Much of the teachers’ frustration has centered on Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who rescinded a 4 percent raise last year and then tried to go around the union in his push for a longer school day by asking teachers at individual schools to waive the union contract to work more hours. The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board subsequently blocked Emanuel’s negotiations with schools. He still was able to lengthen the school day for children to 7 hours, starting this fall, without the union’s approval. The Board of Education agreed to hire almost 500 new teachers so it wouldn’t have to pay current teachers more to work longer hours.

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