Chicago Teachers Vote To Strike if Board, Union Fail To Agree

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Chicago teachers voted by a wide margin last week to strike on Nov. 18 if their union cannot reach an agreement on salary increases with the financially strapped board of education.

Both sides said after the Oct. 15 strike vote that they intend to continue the negotiations that began in the summer when the board notified the union that it could not afford to give teachers the 7 percent raises called for in their contract.

The three-year contract contains a contingency clause that calls for the two sides to renegotiate the raises if the board cannot pay for them. It also requires the union to give the school board 30 days' notice of its intention to terminate the contract and strike.

The vote last week, in which 18,944 teachers voted to void the contract and 5,966 voted not to do so, begins that process, union officials said. No further vote would be required to begin a job action.

Jackie Gallagher, the union's spokesman, said the vote means "negating a contract we've worked very hard for, and in the midst of going into the third year of the education-reform program. There are teachers who really don't want to see schools shut down."

Before the teachers voted to strike, the board of education announced that it had reached an agreement with the 19 other employee unions with which it bargains.

About 9,500 of those unions' members agreed to waive the 7 percent raises they were scheduled to receive this year in exchange for 7 percent raises next year. About 450 union members agreed to defer raises until March and to pay for those raises by taking unpaid days off.

In addition, the board agreed that union members would keep their positions this fiscal year and next, according to Linda Matsumoto, the administration's press secretary.

Superintendent Ted D. Kimbrough estimated that the agreement would save the school board $6 million this year. Late last week, he made a similar proposal to the C.T.U.

Ms. Gallagher noted that, despite weeks of negotiations, the offer was no different from the board's initial request that teachers accept a salary freeze this year.

"This is in effect the same offer they have been hanging onto with bulldog tenacity since the very get-go," she said. "To tell us we will get it next year is ludicrous when they have announced that they anticipate a bigger deficit next year" than this year's $315.8-million shortfall.

Tensions Growing

In addition to disrupting the schools, the administration asserts that a strike would cost the school system $100 million. That is the amount of teacher-pension money that the state legislature allowed the school board to use for educational expenses, provided the contract remained in effect.

The increasingly tense situation in Chicago has disappointed reform advocates, who have argued that the board could offer teachers modest raises by making a series of budget cuts the reformers have suggested.

But the alternative budget suggestions have not been considered by the board, according to reformers and a board member, Patricia A. Daley.

In a scathing letter to her fellow board members written the day C.T.U. leaders voted to take a strike vote, Ms. Daley said she believed "there were many ways to save dollars that staff did not bring to us."

In their budget proposal, the reform advocates suggested that the school board lay off some trade-union members, including piano tuners, shade-makers, glaziers, and the $36,000-a-year firemen who once tended schools' now unused coal-fired boilers. But the agreement with the trade unions apparently has closed that budget option, they noted.

"The unions settled for job security," said Diana Lauber, director of program development for the reform group Leadership for Quality Education. "They have tied themselves to $6 million worth of firemen."

Ms. Matsumoto noted that reform groups "are not directly involved in negotiations."

"We are very concerned about misinformation that is being perpetrated by certain interest groups," she added.

Supporters of school reform also say that they believe the board of education will try once again to gain access to state Chapter 1 money that is earmarked to go directly to schools. An effort by the board to gain access to the money in the closing hours of the spring legislative session was deflected by school advocates.

Each school receives an average of some $350,000 in Chapter 1 money, which is virtually the only discretionary money that local school councils have to spend.

Reform advocates have organized a campaign to let state legislators, who will convene this week in Springfield and again in November for veto sessions, know how important the money is for Chicago schools.

Ms. Matsumoto noted that Mr. Kimbrough has said he would "seek unrestricted use of existing funds."

"But we were never specific as to what," she said. "We don't want to get locked in like that."

Vol. 11, Issue 08, Page 5

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