PI Original Ellyn Fortino Friday March 27th, 2015, 10:46am

CTU Unveils New Contract Demands, Rallies With Allies For 'Education Justice' (VIDEO)

The Chicago Teachers Union is in contract talks with the Board of Ed and released its final set of demands Thursday. The union held a large rally Thursday evening, calling for "education justice" in Chicago -- a running theme among the final 10 contract requests released by the group of educators. 

Less than two weeks before Chicago's mayoral runoff election, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) publicly released its new contract demands and called for "education justice" in the city at a downtown rally Thursday evening with a few hundred community allies.

CTU's contract with the mayor-appointed Chicago Board of Education expires June 30. The union's current contract was signed after the nine-day teachers' strike under Mayor Rahm Emanuel's watch in September 2012.

Thursday's rally -- which kicked off at the Thompson Center and ended with a march to City Hall -- was unquestionably pro-Jesus 'Chuy' Garcia, who forced Emanuel into the April 7 runoff. Some rallygoers wore Garcia pins and others toted campaign signs for the candidate.

In addition to the CTU, the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM) and a coalition of community groups spearheaded the rally, during which participants chanted, "Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Rahm Emanuel's got to go!"

Non-teacher union members were there to support CTU's contract proposals and call for an elected Chicago school board, "sustainable community schools" and city leadership that supports both strong schools and communities. Speakers blasted the 2013 closings of 50 neighborhood schools, charter school expansion, overuse of standardized testing and what they described as inadequate and inequitable school resources.

Among other contract demands, CTU wants smaller class sizes, pre-k expanded to children in families living at 300 percent of the official poverty level and a moratorium on school actions and charter school expansion.

"This is about more than a contract," Monique Redeaux, a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teacher and CTU bargaining committee member, told the crowd at the Thompson Center. "It is about disrupting this tale of two cities. It's about using this platform to demand respect and dignity for our teachers, our paraprofessionals, our students, our families, our communities. It's about promoting, advocating and pushing for the schools -- no, for the city -- that our students and families deserve."

Here are CTU's 10 contract proposals released Thursday:

1. Establish lower and compulsory class size limits in all schools.

2. Ensure that every school has: the necessary clinicians and a school counselor and nurse; a truant officer, restorative justice coordinator, librarian and playground instructors; and art, music, physical education and other teachers to create robust and effective educational programs.

3. Restore adequate preparation time and enforce paperwork limits for teachers.

4. Dedicate resources previously committed to Teach for America to the Grow Your Own Program instead to develop a more diverse and local teaching force directly from CPS student graduates.

5. Engage in legal action against big banks to retrieve upwards of $1 billion for our classrooms; end contracts with these same financial institutions that refuse to renegotiate excessive fees and penalties.

6. Return diverted revenues from the tax increment financing (TIF) program to the schools.

7. Place a freeze on charter school expansion, school closings and turnarounds; allow for union rights for teachers at charter schools and legislative advocacy for an elected school board.

8. Expanded pre-kindergarten (Pre-K) for parents at 300% of the Federal Poverty Level.

9. Reduce significantly the number and duration of standardized tests; prohibit tests entirely for students in Pre-K through 2nd grade.

10. Establish 50 sustainable community schools and strive for policies to achieve increasing integration of students and increased access to curriculum which reflects the experiences and identities of our students.

The 10 demands were presented to school board officials Thursday. As part of its contract proposals, CTU also wants CPS to lift its minimum wage to $15 an hour for all employees, including subcontractors.

Speaking to reporters at the rally, CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said the union's aforementioned proposals are highlighting "public demands that have everything to do with having good schools."

"They're social demands," he said. "They're demands that tie into concerns that people have (about) early childhood education in this city. They're demands that people have about homelessness. They're demands people have about a living wage."

Here's Sharkey explaining the contract demands at the rally as well as other scenes from the event:

As for the union's minimum wage proposal for CPS employees, Sharkey acknowledged that all CTU bargaining unit members already earn $15 an hour or more. 

"However, the Chicago Board of Education is an important institution in Chicago, and we think that they would do right by children if they made a commitment to paying a living wage," he said.

On the pre-K expansion demand, Sharkey recognized that it's a broad proposal with a "big price tag." The school district faces a reported $1 billion budget shortfall in fiscal year 2016. 

"We just want to go on record saying that we should do the right thing by three- and four-year-olds -- that if we want kids to do great in school, this is something that's worth our society investing in," Sharkey explained.

Contract talks started in December, Sharkey said. CTU has been providing the board with written proposals on a variety of subjects over the past month, he said. 

With the new items unveiled Thursday, Sharkey said the board now has all of the union's proposals other than its demands on wages and benefits.

Asked how negotiations are going, Sharkey said the talks are still in the early stages. However, he said, "It seems like they're slow waking and we're not making a lot of progress very fast. I don't think we've gotten any written proposals from the board yet. I suspect some of that is because there's an election."

Sharkey said the union wants to get the contract settled before the upcoming school year begins.

When asked if Garcia is too close to CTU to be in a position of negotiating a new contract with the teachers' union, if elected, Sharkey said: "Whether the mayor is Chuy Garcia or Rahm Emanuel, we are going to bring a set of bargaining demands. Our bargaining demands are our bargaining demands. We submitted them already. We're going to have to have a conversation about those demands with whoever the mayor is.

"If Chuy Garcia winds up being the mayor, we hope he stays accountable to the people who work in the schools, and the people who send their kids to schools," he continued. "We hope that we can force him to address those demands. I'm not under the illusion that it's going to be easy no matter who the mayor is. We're not dumb. We know there's financial constraints in this city ... Whoever the mayor is, [he] is going to have to do the right thing by teachers and by the public."

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