Chicago Public Schools (CPS) imposed a longer school day on teachers in violation of their contract. The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) demanded a 30% raise over the course of the next two years to compensate their members for all the extra work. An arbitrator has recommended that CPS increase teachers’ salaries by 15-20% for the first year of the new contract (the Chicago Tribune reported today), which both sides are likely to reject since the only way CPS can afford to do this is by laying off teachers and increasing class sizes. (CPS has a $665 million deficit next school year that will deplete its cash reserves).
CPS originally offered a 2% raise for working a 20% longer day. In January, CTU took a strike authorization vote in response. The Chicago Tribune article has implied that CTU now has the difficult task of convincing its members to reject a raise that is ten times greater than CPS had offered.
Yet what is so difficult about it? The plan would lead to mass layoffs and who wants to lose their job, particularly with the job market still in such terrible shape? It would lead to larger class sizes and probably a decline in course offerings, as well. This would not only cause teachers’ working days to be longer, but it would force them to do considerably more work per hour, as they would have increases in student interactions, assignments and tests to grade, and parent contacts. It would also be terrible for students, as they would get less one-on-one attention from their teachers and more canned assignments, while safety would be compromised by having too many students sharing lab and shop equipment. Teachers care passionately about their students’ safety, wellbeing and learning environment, often making large personal sacrifices to improve these things. Few teachers will voluntarily accept larger class sizes.
While the arbitrator’s recommendation is nonbinding, both sides must consider and accept the recommendation to move forward. If either side rejects the raise, they must still continue to hold talks for another 30 days before a strike can legally occur.
Members of the consortium of private businesses and district administrators that crafted the longer school day “reform” had insisted on having an arbitrator involved in the process, assuming that an arbitrator would necessarily sympathize with their perspective. Ironically, many now feel betrayed.
CPS has suggested that the arbitrator has ignored the fiscal reality of the district (i.e., the $665 million deficit). Yet CPS does not have to go forward with its plan to lengthen the school day. This is, in fact, the only simple way to resolve the conflict. Dumping its plan to unilaterally impose a longer work day and returning to the status quo would end the district’s attempt to eviscerate the teachers’ contract (which requires negotiation and mutual agreement on increases to the work day). It would also end the district’s attempt to force its employees to work these longer hours for a negligible stipend (i.e., 2% raise for 20% longer hours).
If they push through the longer school day with only a 2% raise, a strike will be the teachers’ best option and one that would hopefully be supported by mass support and solidarity by other educators and workers as the struggle has deep implication for all workers.
Forcing people to work 20% longer while providing only 2% more in compensation is tantamount to forced servitude—teachers would be working 18% more without any compensation at all. While most workers in the U.S., including teachers, have been experiencing increasing workloads and productivity as their real wages have declined, this would be a disturbing escalation in that trend. All a public sector employer would have to do to justify unpaid labor is to say it’s in the public interest and the money for compensation is not available.
It is also union busting, plain and simple. If the city of Chicago can impose longer working hours on teachers in violation of their contract, then their contract is virtually worthless and could easily be violated in numerous other ways, too.
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