There’s an old saying that goes, “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.” Yesterday, the Chicago Teachers Union’s (CTU) “Big Bargaining Team” applied that logic in their unanimous vote to reject what Union President Karen Lewis had termed “a serious offer” from Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
In a late blooming effort to spare the students, parents and the larger Chicago school community the pain of living through the second teacher strike in four years, negotiators from both sides came up with an offer they thought was worthy of putting in front of this bargaining group. Yesterday’s decision means that the larger House of Delegates will not get to look at the proposal and that fact finding—the final step before a strike becomes possible—will begin.
Karen Lewis called this offer “serious.” How could an offer that includes across the board pay raises, pension protections and the preservation of coveted “step and lane” increases (a process that allows teachers to get automatic pay raises as they accumulate experience and earn advanced degrees) be anything less than serious? Based on the details that have been released to the public, I think I might even call it “sweet.” The union’s negotiators came in with an offer that also included a cap on charter school expansion and protections against teacher layoffs as a tool to resolve budget issues.
When I first read about the offer last week, my “education reformer” senses went haywire. “They’re giving away the store,” I thought to myself. I even came to my computer to write a scathing post on my blog.
But then, reason got a hold of me and I realized that a deal that seems “too good” is exactly the kind of deal that the district needed to put on the table in order to avoid a strike. After a while, I was glad they had done it. I knew that it was the kind of thing I’d do if I’d had to actually sit down and work out a deal that could keep students and teachers in the classroom together.
But CTU’s Big Bargaining Team blew it, big time.
Look, if the proposal had been rejected on its merits, I might be a little more understanding. If the Big Bargaining Team had said that the pension pick-up was too important to give away or that the district was asking for too much on medical benefits, I might see a way to accept the rejection as a reasonable action. But the rationale that union representatives gave at their press conference this afternoon sounded more like “this deal is too good to be true.” They cite the notion that there is a “lack of trust” between CTU and CPS and that they weren’t sure that the CPS board would approve the proposals.
I’m sorry—I thought the whole point of contracts was to deal with trust issues. A contract can’t make anyone nice or reasonable. But, once they sign on the dotted line, there are lots of systems in place to make sure that they play by the rules. And if the deal were going to be rejected by the Board of Education, why not let the people of Chicago see that board reject the deal and set the city on a collision course with a teacher strike.
If the CTU wasn’t going to accept a contract because they don’t like CPS leaders, they were never negotiating in good faith.
The “too good to be true” logic applies in a lot of areas in life, but not in contract negotiations. In this case, “too good to be true” was great. If CPS has to lay off teachers, CTU has no one to blame but themselves. This deal was too good to be true. They should have taken it.