Contract talks between Chicago Public Schools and the teachers union continued into Saturday night as both sides worked to beat a midnight Sunday strike deadline.
The negotiations at the Chicago Teachers Union Merchandise Mart headquarters began a little after noon Saturday. Shortly afterward, union Vice President Jesse Sharkey said at a news conference that the proposal made by the district Friday “was disappointing, to say the least.”
There were still “not enough pieces to the puzzle there yet to make a picture,” Sharkey said.
The two sides have until midnight Sunday to reach an agreement, or Chicago’s 25,000 unionized public school teachers will walk off the job for the first time in 25 years.
“We’re committed to work as hard as it takes, 24 hours if necessary up till deadline to get this done,” Sharkey said.
Officials from the district and the union have sent mixed signals on the status of talks in the last several days, alternating between optimism and grim pessimism, possibly reflecting the volatility of negotiations.
Things seemed to be going well Thursday after school board President David Vitale, who helped negotiate teacher contracts in 2003 and 2007, sat in for the first time. Sharkey said Vitale’s presence allowed the union to be “very forthcoming” in expressing what it would take to seal a deal.
But then the district did not respond Friday to the union’s liking, Sharkey said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has not been involved directly in talks, but Beth Swanson, his deputy chief of staff on education, has been at the table for about two weeks.
The sticking points to a new contract remain raises, a recall policy for laid-off teachers and a plan for implementing a new state-mandated teacher evaluation system.
Teachers in Chicago, according to state data, make on average $71,000 a year, and the union rejected the district’s last known offer of 2 percent increases each year for four years, saying teachers deserve more because of the longer school day that Emanuel successfully pushed.
The union’s pay proposal is not known, but teachers earlier were asking for a 19 percent hike in the contract’s first year. The district backed off its demand for merit pay in the face of union opposition, but CPS still wants to end annual raises for experience.
The union also is concerned that the district plans to close schools — CTU President Karen Lewis has said that 100 schools could be shut down in coming years — and is pushing for job security in the form of a recall policy that would give laid-off teachers first dibs on new jobs.
If a deal is reached, the union said it would need to gather delegates to vote on whether to call off a strike. A union official said she expects a “reasonable cutoff of negotiations on Sunday” and that if a deal is reached, a delegate vote could be held within an hour.
With talks going down to the wire, advocacy groups for both sides are pushing to win public support.
Democrats for Education Reform, a Washington, D.C.-based group that opened offices in Chicago earlier this year and has been running ads calling for a compromise, held a demonstration Friday to demand the union call off a strike.
Saturday’s news conference outside CTU’s strike headquarters at Teamster City was attended by pro-union community groups including Parents 4 Teachers and 19th Ward Parents, as well as officials from other unions.
Becky Malone of 19th Ward Parents, playing off the district’s Children First strike contingency plan, said “the city has not put children first because they have put their teachers last.”
Service Employees International Union Local 1 President Tom Balanoff said the district’s janitors are contractually obligated to work in the event of a strike but would be wearing red handkerchiefs Monday in support of teachers.
At another news conference Saturday, members of the Black Star Project, which tutors and mentors Chicago-area students, lashed out at the teachers union and CPS, saying a strike would only worsen the situation for underperforming schools.
Dorothy Davis, Black Star director of operations, said parents don’t think the district’s backup plans are a good solution, either.
“Parents are afraid the streets are going to embrace (their children) instead,” Davis said.
Tribune reporters Cynthia Dizikes and Jennifer Delgado contributed.