CTU leadership splits... Mayor, CPS attack teachers, principals

UPC splits, CTU weakened

Less than six months after the members of the Chicago Teachers Union’s United Progressive Caucus (UPC) swept her back into office with an overwhelming majority of the votes in the union election on May 18, 2007, CTU President Marilyn Stewart has participated in a split in the UPC — and the union’s elected leadership — that is significantly weakening the 31,000-member union in the face of one of the most serious attacks on the rights of its members in nearly 40 years. Since Stewart told the union’s House of Delegates on August 31, 2007, that a controversial five-year contract she had negotiated was an excellent deal for them members, internal dissension has grown within her own ranks, as well as in the broader union. Finally, Stewart herself chose to divide her own caucus in the face of the biggest attack on the union and its members since Mayor Richard M. Daley took over Chicago’s public school system in 1995.

With the help of information supplied by union leaders on both sides of the split, Substance has been able to piece together a partial narrative of one of the most significant events in the 75 years history of what had once been one of the most militant teacher unions in the United States. On one side of the split are Marilyn Stewart, the CTU President, and two of her officers, Recording Secretary Mary McGuire and Financial Secretary Mark Ochoa. All three were re-elected to three-year terms in May 2007.

On the other side of the split are CTU Vice President Ted Dallas and Treasurer Linda Porter Milton. Both Dallas and Milton were also elected in the UPC landslide in May 2007.

Duncan attacks union schools, Stewart signs “solidarity” letter to Duncan

The most dramatic weakening of the union became evident in December 2007. Immediately prior to the December Chicago Board of Education meeting, Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan announced that he was going to close or reorganize somewhere between 147 and 175 schools because of what he called “underutilization.”

Despite widespread demands to know both the criteria for “underutilization” and the names of the schools, Duncan ignored the facts, kept the lists secret, and allowed the system’s 48,000 workers to go into the Christmas holidays with huge questions about their futures. For four weeks, speculation in the schools and on blogs that discussed CPS business ran wild. More than 100 separate bloggers posted to the largest CPS blog ( between the day of the Board of Education meeting and the beginning of the new year. But while teachers and other staff working in the schools were left to wonder whether their holiday presents would include the loss of their jobs, as had taken place when the school financial crisis had been declared in November and December 1979, the leaders of the CTU were mired in what even their own supporters have called “massive office politics.” During the Christmas holidays of 2007, union members across Chicago were worrying about whether their schools would be closed. They didn’t hear from their union, but Arne Duncan did. Marilyn Stewart was very busy. She was securing her position as “Chief Executive Officer” of the Chicago Teachers Union, beginning a purge of her own ranks, writing an unprecedented letter to the chief of the school system —completely ignoring the looming attack on the union’s 31,000 members embodied in the “underutilization” claims of Arne Duncan. In December 2007, Stewart issued two remarkable documents (both reprinted in this issue of Substance). Neither of them dealt with the crisis approaching for the union’s members. One was dramatically friendly to CEO Arne Duncan, the boss who was planning to destroy the jobs and careers of hundreds of CTU members this school year and more in years to come, while even more dramatically hostile to one of the elected leaders of her own union. The other revealed more between the lines than it admitted in print. One came out the week before Christmas, the second the day after Christmas. Neither has been publicly acknowledged by the union itself, but the authenticity of both have been verified to Substance by union officials and to blog leader. On December 17, Stewart circulated a memo to union staff entitled “Changes in Day-to-Day Operations of the Administrative Office.” A complete copy of that memo is reprinted on Page Eight of this Substance.

Mariyn claims 'CEO' status at CTU

In the December 17 memo, she announced that she was completely in charge of the union. She stripped Vice President Ted Dallas of most of his administrative powers within the union office. The December 17 memo was circulated within the union’s staff, all of whom were told that it was to be kept secret from both the members and the public. Within a week it was being made available outside the union’s offices at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. A week after “Changes in Day-to-Day Operations”, on December 26, 2007, Stewart sent a letter to the boss of Chicago’s public schools, CEO Arne Duncan. In what many refer to as “Marilyn’s Christmas Card to Arne”, Stewart told Duncan that she had stripped Dallas of most of his powers in representing CTU members at offices of the Duncan administration. In what has become a growing scandal among the union’s members, Stewart signed the letter to Duncan with the words “In Solidarity” — while she was decimating solidarity within her own ranks. Like the December 17 memo, Stewart asked that her December 26 letter to the boss of the schools be kept confidential.

Within a few days, a growing number of members of the union staff and of Stewart’s own caucus were discussing the unprecedented — and possibly illegal — nature of both documents. The December 17 memo was dubbed by some her “Donald Trump Letter”, while others called the letter to Arne Duncan either her “Christmas present to the boss” or her “Love letter to Arne.”

Growing problems at the top of CTU But the internal problems that exploded between September and December 2007 had been growing since the organizational might of the UPC had re-elected Stewart as CTU president on the May election. Although Stewart’s mandate was to strengthen the union, Stewart apparently interpreted the vote as a personal mandate for her to do whatever she wanted. The first thing she did, even before negotiating the most humiliating contract in the history of the union, was announced a deal to jointly administer a “merit pay” program with the Duncan administration. Although such significant changes in the terms and conditions of employment of the union’s members are supposed to be approved by the union’s House of Delegates (and probably in a membership referendum), Stewart simply joined Duncan at a media event and announced the deal.

After announcing the merit pay deal, Stewart and her team went into negotiations on a new contract to replace the one that was expiring June 30. The old contract, negotiated in 2003 by former union president Deborah Lynch, had been denounced by Stewart for three years. After her re-election in May 2007, it was Stewart’s turn to prove she could do better than Lynch, and the majority of the union’s members believed that she would do so.

Interviews with several people familiar with the events over the past five months gave a picture of what many union members consider an unfolding tragedy.

Teachers, other union members face tragedy because of Stewart's sellout to Mayor Daley

The tragedy has been precipitated in part by Stewart’s desire to accommodate Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley with an unprecedented five-year contract, and partly by other factors which are still being revealed publicly, although not yet officially by the CTU. As of the deadline for this issues of Substance (February 4, 2008), the materials presented and reported here are as much as Substance could gather, mostly from off-the-record but highly informed sources, including top officials of the union who are a part of Stewart’s loyalists. By August 30, 2007, Stewart announced that she and her negotiating team had a contract that she assured the members was better than the four year deal negotiated in 2003 by Deborah Lynch. By the time of a hastily convened meeting of the House of Delegates on August 31, details of the deal were becoming known to delegates and members, and opposition was growing, even in the ranks of Stewart’s most loyal supporters and staff. [Much of this news has been reported exclusively in the pages of Substance. Some is available on the new Substance website, Call the Substance office — 773-725-7502 — or contact Substance by e-mail — Csubstance — about purchasing back issues of Substance’s print editions.]

The contract failed to protect the union’s members from arbitrary school closings and the worst abuses of an “accountability” system based almost exclusively on test scores in a system managed by people with no knowledge of teaching and no classroom experience. But throughout the past year, Stewart had been privately agreeing to deals with the Chicago Board of Education which were signed in violation of union procedures, often without even telling the elected members of the CTU House of Delegates beforehand.

As the 2007-2008 school year dawned, a growing number of Stewart’s own loyalists had begun doubting the competence and loyalty of Stewart and her small inner circle. Growing discontent among the members was ignored by Stewart, who went around repeating that she had a “mandate” of 74 percent of the vote, despite the fact that it was her organization, not her won brilliance, that had returned her to power after three lackluster years as President of the third largest K-12 local in the United States. Most of those who provided information for this article have asked to remain anonymous, in many cases because they are employees of the CTU who might be fired from their jobs by Stewart.

[Full disclosure. This reporter was serving as Director of School Security and Safety at the Chicago Teachers Union when Stewart took office in August 2004. Stewart immediately fired me, and I filed a lawsuit for the remainder of the one-year contract I had with the union. In January 2008, a judge upheld a motion for summary judgment on my behalf, affirming that the contract had been valid and that Stewart had illegally fired me].

Stewart refuses to talk with Substance

For four years, Stewart has refused to talk with Substance or answer questions, written, by e-mail, or at press conferences. On January 24, 2008, Stewart’s staff deleted Substance from distribution lists announcing CTU press conferences. After the January 23, 2008, school board meeting at which the closing of 19 schools was announced, Stewart has refused to answer Substance reporters’ questions about the union’s position on the current round of school closings and consolidations. Stewart’s publicist, Rosemaria Genova, has also refused to respond to Substance requests for clarification on the matters reported here.

CTU purge begins

By January 2008, Marilyn Stewart was beginning a purge of the union’s own paid staff while a tumultuous split was taking place within the United Progressive Caucus.

During the previous four months, beginning as soon as the new contract was ratified on September 10, 2007, Stewart has been demanding personal loyalty from all of the union’s professional and technical staff members. There had been an unconfirmed report that Stewart had tried to fire two of the union’s elected officers, but had been told by the American Federation of Teachers that she couldn’t do so. The CTU (and the CTU Quest Center, which is operated by the union) currently employs more than 60 people, most of them teachers on leave, at its Merchandise Mart headquarters, which Stewart now refers to as the “Administrative Office.”

Maneuvers within the United Progressive Caucus itself recently resulted in two major meetings, each for one of the factions. One meeting was held on January 30 for the faction led by Vice President Ted Dallas. At that meeting, held at the Parthenon Restaurant in Chicago, Dallas and his group affirmed themselves as the United Progressive Caucus. One source told Substance that Stewart had tried to attend that meeting and was turned away by off-duty police officers working for the Dallas faction. The Dallas faction is reportedly headed by Vice President Ted Dallas and Treasurer Linda Porter Milton. Informed sources told Substance that more than three dozens union staff and school delegates attended the meeting of the Dallas faction on January 30. The second meeting was held the following day, January 31, by the faction led by Stewart herself. At the second meeting, Stewart had herself declared caucus chief and formally stripped the people in the other faction of powers. According to one informed source who was present, the United Progressive Caucus, Stewart’s faction, is now co-chaired by Stewart and Leslie Barron, with Rick Perrote (CTU director of security and safety) as treasurer and Mary McGuire (CTU recording secretary) as secretary.

Purge of the union staff On February 1, Stewart began a purge of the union’s administrative staff. Stewart fired one of the long-term leaders of the UPC, Diana Scheffer. Scheffer was fired by Stewart and escorted out of the union offices and to her car by two staff members after being given a limited amount of time to clear out her belongings.

Meanwhile, long time union activists complain that Stewart has appointed at least one staff member who crossed a picket line during a union strike. If the report is verified (and Stewart refuses to discuss it with Substance), the appointment (to a highly paid full-time staff position) would be the first time in the history of the large city locals of the American Federation of Teachers that a “scab” (the union term for strikebreaker) had been given such a choice job by a union president. Substance will report the resolution of the issue as soon as it can be resolved. By the beginning of February, 2008, as the Chicago Board of Education began hearings on the closing or reorganization of 19 schools, the largest number in Chicago history, Marilyn Stewart’s energies were primarily devoted to securing her power within the union’s offices. “Office politics are destroying a union we worked more than half a century to build,” one union staff member, who asked to remain anonymous, told Substance in a lengthy interview recently.

Ineffective spokesman, weak candidate, strong vote

After unseating one-term union president Deborah Lynch in a runoff election in June 2004, Marilyn Stewart spent her entire first three-year term in office blaming Lynch for every problem the union faced. Stewart and her supporters used the four-year contract (2003-2007) negotiated by Lynch against Lynch from the day they took office. The Stewart group took office at CTU headquarters after a tumultuous fight, which saw two elections. There had been a four-way race in May in which Lynch received a plurality, but not a majority of the votes. There was then a two-way runoff in June at which Stewart won a slim victory which Lynch at first tried to deny. Stewart was declared the winner after an investigation by the American Federation of Teachers declared that claims of irregularities in the voting made by Lynch had not been proved. Stewart finally began her term on August 4, 2004, a month after she was supposed to do so.

For both of her terms, Stewart has been joined at the top of the union’s leadership by four other elected officers:

Vice President Ted Dallas is a former teacher from Wells High School.

Treasurer Linda Porter Milton is a former physical education teacher from Walter Reed Elementary School.

Recording Secretary Mary McGuire is a former classroom teacher from Beaubien Elementary School.

Financial Secretary Mark Ochoa is a former physical education teacher from Logandale Elementary School.

Where is the CTU contract?

One of the biggest questions being asked in the more than 600 public schools in Chicago as 2008 began was: “Where is the union contract?”

In the USA, the two things a union does (the bedrock activities, so to speak) are (a) negotiate a contract for its members and (b) enforce that contract. While office politics at the union’s headquarters continued, the big questions about the CTU at this point in January 2008 were about contract existence and contract enforcement.

As of the end of January 2008, Marilyn Stewart had not provided the union’s members — or event the delegates — with copies of contract that was approved in the September 10 referendum. On February 1, the union announced that the complete contract had been posted on the CTU website. Substance has yet to verify this claim.

Four years ago, Marilyn Stewart, Ted Dallas and her colleagues in the UPC were constantly complaining that Deborah Lynch had not yet gotten the contract printed and distributed. The Lynch contract had finally been approved by a November 2003 referendum. Although some of the problems with the contract were visible to the union’s delegates at the time of the August 31 House of Delegates vote, many union members now worry that the contract contains even more unpleasant surprises than those which have become known since September 2007. 

This article originally was published in the February 2008 print edition of Substance.


December 18, 2009 at 4:08 AM

By: Ancient history is deja vu

Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it...

This article should be re-read by everyone who has been trying to follow the twists and turns of Marilyn Stewart's purgative career over the past two years. Actually, the final Stewart power grab began on August 31, 2007, when she refused to count the "No" votes on the union contract after a tumultuous House of Delegates meeting. Stewart got away with ignoring the majority of the House of Delegates, then boldly went to the media and announced the lie that the contract has been "approved." As all teachers know, liars who get away with lying usually continue until they are forcibly stopped. Stewart's unprecedented behaviors are just another footnote to what happens when you allow people (children or adults) to get away with sociopathic behaviors.

Politically, she's been delivering the union's members into the hands of Daley's henchmen and women since she first took office, but the signal moment came with the Big Lie about the "approval" of the five-year contract. In a way she began selling out long before that. The only difference between the first three years of the Great Stewart Sellout (2004 - 2007) and the latest version of the same Sellout (2007 - today) is that for those first three years, most delegates (and many members) let Stewart get away with lying about what Debbie Lynch did for the union during her three brief years as president.

To take one example: Why do you think you can't read all the back issues of the Chicago Union Teacher on the CTU web site (

Answer: Because if you could, you would be able to read a balanced version of what the union did during the years (2001 - 2004) it had gotten rid of the United Progressive Caucus. So Stewart, like all dictators before her, simply throws history down the Orwellian "Memory Hole." But who's to blame? The members of the House of Delegates for years allowed Stewart's screamers to bully Deborah Lynch, and then many of them went along with Stewart's purge of Ted Dallas.

Also, thanks for publishing the words to "Solidarity Forever" back in that same issue of Substance.

It's important that CTU members have the actual words to that song, rather than the addled version Stewart distributed back in April 2009 when she hosted that other sellout, AFT President Randi Weingarten, at the House of Delegates meeting. Does anyone still have a copy of the Stewart version of the union song? It should go into the "Scab and Sellout Song Book."

That's enough for one night. Hopefully, others will add to the history now that Substance is making it clear for all to read. By the way, can Substance publish all the back issues of the Chicago Union Teacher newspaper, since Marilyn Stewart is trying to cover up the union's complex history in order to continue to pursue her corporate version of reality and that obnoxious fantasy that her Cadillac-driving self is now a "CEO"?

Add your own comment (all fields are necessary)

Substance readers:

You must give your first name and last name under "Name" when you post a comment at We are not operating a blog and do not allow anonymous or pseudonymous comments. Our readers deserve to know who is commenting, just as they deserve to know the source of our news reports and analysis.

Please respect this, and also provide us with an accurate e-mail address.

Thank you,

The Editors of Substance

Your Name

Your Email

What's your comment about?

Your Comment

Please answer this to prove you're not a robot:

4 + 2 =