CFL News
June 15, 2012

Chicago Public Schools’ 2nd-largest union ratifies new contract

Members of SEIU agree to new 3-year contract covering custodians, child welfare attendants, watchmen, special education classroom assistants, security officers, school bus aides and other CPS employees

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

By Rosalind Rossi

Chicago Public School officials and the system’s second largest union Thursday announced the ratification of a contract that will give 5,500 custodians and other workers two percent raises for each of the next three years and save thousands of jobs.

The deal also gives the Chicago Board of Education a financial escape hatch, allowing the district to cancel any raises in future years that it doesn’t have the money to cover, union officials said.

The agreement with Service Employees International Union Local 73 announced Thursday was ratified by 60 percent of its members, union vice president Taalib-Din Ziyad said.

The union represents custodians, child welfare attendants, watchmen, special education classroom assistants, security officers, school bus aides and other CPS employees.

Ziyad said the union’s prime concerns were wages and job security. He said the contract saved the jobs of 3,600 SEIU members — in effect, two-thirds of the union — that district officials wanted to “phase out” or “contract out” of existence as they battle a $600 to $700 million deficit.

“We were far apart when we first sat down to the table with SEIU Local 73,” schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said at a joint news conference with the union. “But we worked through the process and found when you keep lines of communication open and continue negotiating, agreement is possible.”

Asked the cost of the new SEIU agreement, district spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said by email that “those details will not be final until the contracts are signed and final.”

The deal also gives child welfare attendants financial help in advancing their career, provides three-day training to all security personnel and changes the current sick-day policy to allow for maternity leave.

The contract is the second that CPS has closed with its unions. Five additional contracts are under negotiation, including one with the Chicago Teachers Union, the district’s largest bargaining unit. Last week, nearly 90 percent of CTU members voted to authorize a strike, if necessary, if negotiations break down.

A financial escape hatch in union contracts allowed the school district this school year to cancel scheduled pay raises with all seven unions. The recision of this year’s 4 percent raise promised teachers, combined with the imposition of a longer school day, further fueled the anger that greeted the district’s initial offer to teachers of a 2 percent pay raise in year one followed by raises based only on an unspecified “differentiated pay” system in years three through five,

However, Brizard insisted Thursday that “talks have not broken down” with the teachers and that “people are working very hard” to reach a compromise.

Job security was also key to the deal reached last month with lunchroom workers, who won two years of two percent raises and a promise that the district would stop its expansion of “warming kitchens” that eliminate the need for union cooks.