PI Original Ellyn Fortino Wednesday April 20th, 2016, 5:27pm

CTU President Karen Lewis Calls Rauner 'The New ISIS Recruit'

CTU President Karen Lewis had some choice words Wednesday for Gov. Bruce Rauner over his handling of the state budget. She also rejected the school district's request to move contract talks into binding arbitration.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis railed against Bruce Rauner during a speech Wednesday afternoon before the City Club of Chicago, going as far as to call the Republican governor "the new ISIS recruit."

Lewis was referring to the terrorist group also known as the Islamic State.

"If Governor Rauner says he loves Illinois, yet he hates labor, then he's a liar. There's no Illinois without labor, and to fleece one is to rob the other," she said. "Yes, I said it, and I'll say it again. Bruce Rauner is a liar, and you know, I've been reading in the news lately all about these ISIS recruits popping up all over the place. Has Homeland Security checked this man out yet? Because the things he's doing look like acts of terror on poor and working-class people."

Lewis slammed Rauner over his pro-business, anti-union policy agenda, which is at the center of the monthslong state budget impasse. 

"People are hurting across Illinois while this so-called governor plays chicken with the state budget," she said, adding that the "governor's viscous attacks on CTU and [the City of Chicago School] District 299, quite frankly, is a purposeful distraction to redirect our attention from his inability to governor and manage the state's finances."

Speaking to reporters after the speech, Lewis accused Rauner of "holding people hostage" over his policy agenda. 

"It's ideological. That's terrorism," Lewis said. "And you know what? He talks about me all the time, so guess what? Gloves are off."

Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly responded via statement. 

"This kind of rhetoric has no place in American public discourse and sets a terrible example for our kids," she said.

Lewis made those comments as the union and CPS remain at odds over a new contract to replace the one that expired on June 30.

Over the weekend, the union moved closer to a strike when it rejected a neutral fact-finder's report recommending contract terms previously offered by CPS in January. The district's four-year contract offer, which CTU's Big Bargaining Team shot down in February, sought to phase out the district's pension pickup for teachers and increase health care costs for union members. The proposal also called for slight increases in compensation for educators, among other provisions.

CTU's rejection of the fact-finder report triggered a 30-day period before teachers can strike. A 10-day strike notice is required before a walkout, which could occur as early as May 16. CTU's membership already voted to authorize a strike back in December.

"Is the city of Chicago headed towards another teachers strike? Yes," Lewis said during her speech.

However, Lewis asserted that "no decision has been made" yet on whether the CTU will actually hit the picket lines.

"While contract negotiations have not yet yielded the results we want, we remain at the table, but we cannot rule out a strike," she said. 

Lewis said the district's proposal would reduce take-home pay over the life of the contract for teachers, paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel and "offered no solution to ballooning class sizes." 

"Even with the positive non-economic elements to the contract designed to enhance instruction and the academic environment for students, the CTU cannot ignore the devastating economic impact this contract would have on our members," she added. "Cutting educator compensation is not the answer to CPS' extreme financial problems. The district desperately needs stable, sustainable and increasing revenue to finance its operations. Without it, the mayor's handpicked Board of Ed cannot afford any contract proposal, even its own."

CTU is pushing for sustainable, long-term revenue solutions to help address CPS' budget woes and stave off budget cuts. CTU members and allied organizations are in Springfield Wednesday rallying support for school funding and several pending bills. Among other proposals, the union is pushing for state legislation to create a progressive Illinois income tax as well as an elected school board in Chicago.

CTU and CPS officials are expected to resume contract negotiations Thursday.

Binding Arbitration Request

Earlier Wednesday, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool asked the CTU to enter into "final and binding interest arbitration in lieu of a strike."

"In our view a strike whether in May or in August or in September would be devastating to our students and parents, Claypool said in a letter addressed to Lewis. "Further, we are at a loss as to how a strike would solve or even advance a solution to the considerable challenges that CPS faces. The best course is for CPS and CTU to join together in Springfield for long term sustainable funding for our schools. A strike is counterproductive and would only fuel the anti-CPS forces in Springfield."

After a labor contract expires, binding interest arbitration is used to prevent worker strikes and settle disagreements between a public employer and employee union over a new agreement. Under such a procedure, an arbitrator's decision on a labor dispute is binding.

In requesting binding arbitration, Claypool said the process has been used for Chicago police and fire contracts.

"I believe that teachers are just as important as our policemen and firemen," Claypool wrote. "The extraordinary circumstances that CPS currently faces demands that we use every means available to avoid disruption to our schools and our families."

Claypool asked for a response to the district's binding arbitration request by Wednesday, April 27.

For its part, the CTU blasted the binding arbitration proposal as a "publicity stunt." Union spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin released the following statement earlier today before Lewis' speech:

This so-called request for arbitration is a CPS publicity stunt before President Lewis' City Club speech today at noon. We have hundreds of members in Springfield right now fighting for progressive revenue and an end to the budget stalemate. While Karen is delivering her speech at noon, our members will be marching on the governor's mansion in Springfield. CTU does not have binding interest arbitration because we choose to negotiate and write our own contracts---plus police and fire, as he referenced, cannot strike. We can't say we're interested in this until we know the rules of arbitration and under what terms. Binding arbitration puts our fate in the hand of a single person rather than our nearly 30,000 rank and file members.

Lewis said the binding arbitration proposal is "not acceptable."

"There's no reason to do it," she said, adding the the proposal is "a pure publicity stunt." 

"We write our own contracts. We've never done interest arbitration. And that's because we have the ability to strike," the labor leader said. "The police and the firemen don't, which is why they have to submit to interest arbitration."  

Lewis also rejected the district's request that CTU join CPS in lobbying efforts in Springfield.

"We're not going hand in hand with them to cut our own throats," she said. 

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