Skip to the end to hear speeches.
I went down to Chicago with 2 busfuls of Madison folks – most of them teachers. Two other buses came from Milwaukee. We were going to what was billed a “Wisconsin-style” rally in Union Park.
I don’t think it was really Wisconsin-y, but it was sweet that they made a big deal about us. I would tell people I was from Wisconsin. They’d say “Thank you!”. I’d say in a yet louder voice, “Oh no – thank YOU!”.
We came out of gratitude to the many Chicago people who came to Wisconsin to stand in solidarity with us in February and March of 2011. We also came for an infusion of fighting spirit. It’s 3 months since top teacher bully Scott Walker survived the election that was supposed to topple his reign. Teachers across Wisconsin now work with bigger class sizes, less support staff, and often without a contract. Nothing is fixed and nothing is, as Walker likes to say, “working”. Some even saw their former school close while a small number of charter schools got a fresh cash influx from Walker. Public school closings matched with corporate non-union charter school openings: that’s new to Wisconsin but a familiar theme in Chicago.
The other theme they both endure: vilification. The great majority of Americans laugh at the notion that a teacher could be called “union thug”. But Chicago and Wisconsin teachers hear this hateful, real slur that rises up whenever they stand for their profession.
On Sunday CTU delegates reviewed a contract “framework” and voted to continue to strike at least through Tuesday. Tuesday night they will vote again. In response, Rahm Emanuel announced he would push for a court injunction to force teachers to class. In response to Rahm, Karen Lewis has reaffirmed that CTU is acting within its rights and the letter of the law.
There is 1 delegate per school, so over 700 individual teachers serve as delegates. According to a delegate I spoke to on the street, teachers *could* have also done a tentative go-ahead to return to school without a contract. But then all of the teachers would still have to vote by majority to approve the contract.
Here’s how the process is described by George N. Schmidt of Substance News, “Once the House votes to suspend a strike (and recommend a contract), a membership referendum is scheduled. Every card carrying member of the CTU will be eligible to vote in every school on the proposed contract. If they vote “Yes”, the contract will be binding for however many years it is in place. If the members vote “No”, the strike will resume.”
Karen Lewis, President of CTU, repeated at the rally “It’s a framework not a contract” and she stressed that the strike is on until it is not on.
CTU teachers are now under immense pressure. After all of this, they must come up with a contract that is fair to teachers and also backs up their claims that they advocate holistically for children and a healthier school system.
The strike has progressed with no strike fund, meaning some teachers are feeling financial pressure to end the strike to pay the bills. Although popular opinion is with them with 47% of Chicago supporting the strike, 39 against, let’s be real: kids are not in school during a strike and parents are not going to be supportive for long.
And everybody hears stuff like this:
“I will not stand by while the children of Chicago are played as pawns in an internal dispute within a union. This was a strike of choice and is now a delay of choice that is wrong for our children…” – Rahm Emanuel 9/16/12
After our rally, I walked with the marchers but fell behind when I interviewed an elderly retired teacher and some other people on the sidelines. Then as I walked to catch up, strangers on the sidewalk assumed I was a teacher and repeatedly thanked me for “what I was doing”. As I walked I also repeatedly heard parents leaning over gates to ask teachers if there is school Monday. Teachers would stop and explain that they are close but that they must learn more about the contract contents and then vote. More than one time on Saturday I heard teachers say they were praying Monday could be the day. One teacher told me she didn’t think schools could possibly be open Monday.
CTU Has Strong Community Relationships
CTU would be unwise to rush now what has taken so long to build.
CTU has worked for two years with communities and with parents directly to the point of visiting people door to door election-style to develop relationships deep enough that even conservative Chicago Tribune can not tear them asunder. And then there’s the matter of Rahm Emanuel’s bad reputation. That works in CTU’s favor.
A few weeks ago when I was at the Romney Ryan rally in Janesville, I had the good fortune to strike up a conversation with a conservative pro-Romney retired CTU teacher in the line. I asked him what he thought about the current situation. His first words: “He lengthened the school day by twenty percent! Rahm Emanuel is a dictator!”
CORE Leadership of CTU
When I was at the rally, I talked to a librarian about how she felt, how it came to be that CORE became CTU’s leadership.
She voted for CORE’s leadership 2 years ago because they had something different to offer:
“They were all about the family, all about community, all about grassroots organizations and that’s what perked my ears up.”.
CORE stands for Caucus of Rank and File Educators, the leadership group that was voted in to head CTU in June of 2010.
Still she wasn’t sure if it was just talk. She said they were and are savvy about communicating with members online and that really impressed her, too. She said she’s impressed with how much the CORE leadership has done to connect with the community that teachers serve. “I’m proud. For once I’m proud of who I voted for, you know? I’m proud of Karen Lewis and the whole group. They really mean it and they’re working hard”.
They’re working hard and also turning a formerly traditional hierarchal union into a more dynamic and democratic one. What Steven Ashby wrote in Labor Notes matches what I’ve heard from Chicago teachers directly. “The new leadership took on the task of forming contract action committees to educate and involve the members, and to develop new rank-and-file leaders, in 615 schools. The union organized three conferences to strategize and implement the contract campaign.”
CTU has also put the power of social media into the hands of the rank and file, training them for months to use twitter and facebook. “…we empowered our members to become citizen journalists on the ground,” said Kenzo Shibata, CTU’s New Media Specialist in a nifty WBEZ piece.
We talked about how she’s eager to get in the classroom again. The strike has stressed her out and tired her out with all the marching, but she said the support from everybody has been really wonderful.
As we concluded a group of 50 high school students marched by with bucket drums and matching green shirts and signs of support for their teachers [below].
Wisconsin-style vs. Chicago-style
Many of us Wisconsin protesters – and teachers – thought that elections and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin were the way out of our mess. Chicago teachers have no such illusions.
Rahm Emanuel got 55% of his mayoral vote with the next of 4 candidates receiving only 24% in a non-partisan election. Rahm would be raising money for Obama right now if he weren’t so busy with striking teachers. I won’t go into Obama and his education secretary Arne Duncan’s anti-teacher agenda. Let’s just say the nation’s teachers – especially Chicago’s – are getting the distinct impression that Dem. leaders are just not that into them.
Democratic Party figure Rahm appointed his pro-charter school board (appointed – not elected - since 1995) and a Democratic state senator, Sen. Kimberly Lightford, sheperded a bill through Illinois’ legislature last year to make it easier to get rid of teachers and to lengthen the school day.
Dem. IL Gov. Quinn signed legislation in June last year to bar “a strike in the Chicago schools system unless 75 percent of the teachers’ union members voted to support it.” -News-Gazette
That 75% level for a strike vote was expected to keep CTU in line.
When I was Saturday’s rally, a speaker said the teachers had voted 90% to strike. A group of women behind me yelled loudly, “Ninety EIGHT percent!!” to correct him. (92% of members approved the strike- 98% of those who actually voted approved it)
In Wisconsin’s struggle, teachers and others had little planning. One thing led to another – from Walker dropping the “bomb”, to the occupation, to the senators leaving, to the mass protests. The Socialists in particular pushed Wisconsin to strike but the idea of a recall won out. We then had to wait around 1 year for Walker to be in office, had to collect over 590,000 signatures (which was cold and stressful but gratifying) and we felt great to get over 1 million. We created a massive list of volunteers and signers and it was handed to the Dem Party where the whole exploit folded. The annointed Dem candidate Barrett was the guy who lost to Walker in 2010 and he refused to step into the election until he felt certain his regular Milwaukee mayor gig was secured. He had a fundraiser with Rahm Emanuel (I’ll just leave it at that -there’s more).
The campaign was traditional Dem stuff: soft messaging, “Walkergate” accusations, and very few signs in rural Wisconsin. The beautiful PCCC ads featuring Wisconsinites in 2011 became a memory. The election was lost with a suspicious 7% spread after 50/50 exit polling into the evening. Walker is still governor, Tea Party agenda and all.
In the streets we were public and private unions – nurse uniforms and firefighter gear – progressives, Dems, university students, farmers, more. We fed each other with food, song, story, art. Then our massive solidarity was broken by trust in politics, by the passage of time, by ads, and by “Divide and Conquer”: the special treatment Walker gave to safety workers like cops and firefighters and by a poisonous and illegal open pit mine bill that promised jobs for construction unions.
When it was all done, the Wisconsin Dems said they were simply outspent [I attended the state convention]. The evil eye of the Koch machine is still gazing upon us. I assume then, that they will continue to be outspent.
In CTU’s fight Walker’s divide and conquer style isn’t going to work. CTU has the connection of shared profession and shared gender – teachers are still mostly female. CTU is also transcending the divides usually enforced by decades of racism in segregated Chicago.
CTU has organized deeply for at least 2 years strong for themselves, not the Dems. The Dems are not going to see the fruits of that labor because CTU has back-up from Occupy Chicago, old school radicals, and their many labor allies in a union town (like the Fraternal Order of Police). Their values are not getting watered down because they can keep the agenda on education and reality as they experience it.
The Contract: Getting Down to Brass Tacks
When we disembarked from our bus to walk to Union Park, almost immediately we were met with some Socialists handing out literature.
You could say they were heading us off at the pass. The message on their lit: the union has caved in to Rahm. Go here to see it in full:
“..[the deal] will reportedly allow school officials to fire non-tenured teachers immediately and dismiss tenured teachers after a year. The weight of standardized test scores in teacher evaluations will increase to 35 percent, with a committee of CPS and CTU officials deciding whether to raise this to 40 percent in four years.
The CTU has accepted the mayor’s plan to shut down more than one hundred schools and sharply increase the number of charter schools. The main concern of the CTU leadership is that school closings and privatizations be carried out with the collaboration of the union and not unilaterally by CPS.”
When I’ve talked to Chicago teachers, conversation drifts to charter schools undermining open-enrollment [standard public] schools. They also talk about standardized testing ruining their instruction and setting their schools up for low marks and failure. Those are system flaws that may be softened but they are aggressively promoted by the Chicago school board. Which is appointed by Rahm. Who is not up for reelection ’til 2015.
I also found this rare tweet:
@OrangeChairTV #ctustrike contract update this morning, no insurance and no class size limits…wtf! Karen Lewis, size limits are a must. #ctu #Chicago
I’m not sure if finding few criticisms means CTU members are cautiously optimistic or cautiously tight-lipped.
The contract that CPS had with CTU was cancelled by the school board one year early in 2011. At that time teachers were told they would work a longer school day – 20% more – in Fall of 2012 for a 2% raise. Although some of us are only now aware of the negotiations underway on CTU’s contract, this has been going on for a year.
In June 2012 CTU voted to strike and at that time the city openly criticized CTU for taking the vote before results from an arbiter (city-appointed) came in. But then the arbitrator’s statement came in and the city tried to back away from it. Arbiter results: the teachers should get an a raise of 35.7% over 4 years or else Rahm should shorten that school day he lengthened.
According to the contract framework released by CTU in a press release Saturday, a stepped raise for teachers is on the table: “The CTU wants a three-year contract. It will secure a 3% raise in the first year, 2% raise in the second and 2% raise in the third, with the option to extend to a 4^th year by mutual agreement at another 3% raise.”
That’s a far cry from 35.7%. And I see no mention of the school day getting shortened. But there’s more.
Also on the table: merit pay plan as proposed gone, preservation of “ladder steps” career advancement,
512 additional ‘special’ teachers in art, music,
world languages and other classes,
rehire plan for a “CPS Hiring Pool”,
No more bullying by principals and managerial personnel,
prep time for clinicians,
racially diverse workforce [black teachers have been laid off disproportionately],
if students go to charter schools their teachers follow them, Fairer Evaluation Procedures,
reimbursement for school supplies to $250,
books ready for students on day 1 of school,
more “wraparound” staff in the form of nurses, social workers and school counselors if CPS gets added funding from TIF, unified school calendar,
More details here.
I’m not sure how the no-bullying provision would play out other than to force a conversation and shame CPS for practices that are already illegal.
Example: When I visited Chicago before the strike, I spoke with a teacher who was let go 2 days previous from the Social Justice school for “economic reasons”. She believed the real reason for the action was her support of students at the school who were protesting education cuts. She is pursuing legal action with the aid of CTU.
I’ve heard over and over that art, music, and physical education teachers are removed from CPS schools. I’m finally figuring out from reading online discussions that this is a result of the current way CPS uses standardized testing to evaluate education. Here’s a comment: “I teach the arts but since the arts aren’t measured on test scores they are a lower priority and the first thing to go with budget cuts.” – from redditor CaseArcana.
Some journalists are understandably hot to attach their name to “news” about anything CTU-related right now. There was a twitter kerfuffle that perfectly illustrates how rumor can spin into a “report”.
Basically a source told a source that another source said that a union leader said to cancel buses to the rally I went to. That was good enough to go in a Huffington Post story. In this same story, that union leader allegedly thought that an agreement was very close. That got turned into a 2nd writer’s tweet that the rally was cancelled.
Yes. They were talking about the wonderful rally I went to.
I only tell the tale to explain why this CTU motto is going to be repeated once or twice before things are done:
If you didn’t hear it from CTU Local 1, it isn’t true.
Text from Karen Lewis’ speech 09 15 2012 (incomplete transcript):
(It’s well worth a listen)
I want somebody to tell me how I can get better as a teacher. I want them to come into a classroom and see what it is I do. But while these people have their air conditioners turned off I want them to not be able to go to a dentist when they have a toothache. I want them to not be able to go to a physician when they are feeling ill. I want them to understand what it means to be hungry, what it means to be uncomfortable while you give me a test.
I want them to show us where are the billionaires marching. Why do they have so much influence because they can write a check? They only have 1 vote.
I want to know why when we ask for textbooks and materials on the 1st day – on the 1st day when children walk into a building – somehow we are being unreasonable. I want somebody to tell me why that is. I want somebody to tell me why asking for more than 325 social workers for a system of 400,000 children is unreasonable.
I want you to tell me why you have to test my kindergarteners 5 and 6 times a year when they haven’t even learned how to play. I am tired of people telling us that we’re thugs. I am tired of people telling us that the principals are supposed to have complete freedom in organizing their schools.
I saw John Legend last night speaking these words on the television and I say back to him, “Principals have a 4 year shelf life. So are we supposed to turn over our schools every 4 years so when the next new principal comes in with their ideas, that the people have already committed time and love but their professionalism - that we have to turn over because somebody new comes in?
I would like 125 S. Clark to be stable. If it’s not stable at the top, how is it going to be stable at the bottom.
You are the foundation and they are trying to destroy us and we are not going to be destroyed because that’s not what’s good for children. Evaluate me, show me how I can get better. But don’t tell me some random test you pulled of a shelf and some child sits down and bubbles in is going to tell me how I’ve done - it does not.
Speech: CTU president Karen Lewis at CTU rally, Sept. 15, 2012
Powerful speech by Che Rhymefest Smith – Grammy award winner, Author of Kanye West song “Jesus Walks”
Keep up on CTU’s negotiations and/or strike:
If you’re into the contract provisions, you might like to review where they were on negotiations in August.
Read an interesting discussion of the CTU strike on redit: IAMA Teacher for Chicago Public Schools – AMA
Final note on race and poverty and the attack on Chicago schools: This is a huge factor in the story but I’m not done wrapping my brain around that. I just wanted to let you know it’s on my mind.