Core convention ends on high note after lengthy revisions to caucus's by-laws

Should newly elected Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) officers — and newly hired union employees who made up the CORE leadership during an unprecedented election fight — be able to continue to run the activist caucus that is now running the Chicago Teachers Union? Just how does an insurgent caucus navigate the change that comes after it wins political power in the largest union in Illinois at a time when unions and union benefits are under attack across the USA and in Chicago?

These topics among others were debated at the annual CORE convention at the University of Illinois at Chicago on Friday and Saturday, August 20 and August 21, 2010, in which almost 100 CORE members gathered together to set the rules to govern the Coalition of Rank and File Educators. The convention began at 3:00 p.m. on Friday August 21 and continued all day on Saturday, August 22. By the time the convention adjourned, the vast majority of those present were satisfied that CORE had begun to map its structure and programs to handle new challenges in the years ahead.

While some members were against having a majority of now CTU employees who are also CORE members sitting on the CORE "steering committee," which forms the leadership of the caucus, others said the voters should decide who should run CORE.

The debate sprang up after Jackson Potter, a founder of CORE who taught at Little Village High School until the recent election victory (he is now the CTU's director of operations), told members at an earlier meeting this week it is important to keep the CTU and CORE separate.

However, Potter argued at the convention that it is important to keep many of the former "steering committee" leaders in place because they have a wealth of knowledge to effectively run the caucus. Institutional memory within CORE should be valued, he and others insisted, and the best way to keep that memory consistent within the leadership was to continue to have many of the leaders who had been on the steering committee continue.

Six CORE leaders, most of whom currently work in the Union offices, will continue to serve on the steering committee — Karen Lewis will continue as co-chair, Potter will switch from co-chair to another role on the leadership team, Kenzo Shibata, Jenn Johnson, Lois Ashford and Carol Caref.

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey, Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle and Organizing Coordinator Norine Gutenkanst announced that they will no longer serve in CORE's steering committee leadership.

Recording Secretary Michael Brunson, who joined the CORE steering committee leadership team after being nominated as a CORE candidate for the CTU office, will not be eligible to continue to serve, but was nominated at the convention to run in the upcoming election.

The following members were nominated for the five open CORE leadership positions: Debbie Pope, Jim Vail (this reporter), Nate Goldbaum, Brunson, Rosita Chatunda, Kurt Hilgendorf, Jim Cavallero, Al Ramirez, Lee White, Cielo Munoz, Katie Hogan, Suzanne Dunn, Susan Zupan, Linda Newsome, Valerie Collins, Drew Heiserman, George Schmidt, Wendy Boatman, Sarah Chambers, Danielle Ciesielski and Audrea. Bill Lamme and David Robbins declined their nominations. Some of those nominated are now working full-time, part-time or as consultants for the CTU, while most of the others are still working in the schools (or are now retiree members of the CTU).

Additional nominations may be made on the CORE list serve before members of the caucus vote to complete the steering committee.

The election for the vacancies will take place online at a date to be announced in the future.

Another concern members raised on Friday was the problems people are having with their Chicago Teachers Union field reps. The field reps are supposed to answer members' complaints and file grievances if necessary. Several CORE members complained that their field reps either didn't respond or said they could do nothing.

Most of the field reps were hired by Marilyn Stewart's UPC administration (or earlier) and are still serving three or four year contracts. Some members noted that a similar problem occured after Debbie Lynch defeated the UPC for the first time since union elections began more than 30 years ago. The field reps had been viewed as professionals serving the union from the union's beginning until 2001, according to union sources. Following the upset election of Deborah Lynch as CTU president in 2001, the field reps organized into a Teamster Union local and have since worked for the union as unionized CTU workers with a union contract. The Teamster contract continued under Marilyn Stewart and reportedly caused some of the friction that arose between Stewart and her vice president, Ted Dallas. CTU clerical staff are also unionized.

The CORE leaders reminded the CORE convention that the field reps had their rights as unionized workers, while they also had their responsibilities to the membership. After a member reported that she had been told there was nothing the union could do about a problem, the leadership responded. "We want it in writing about the problems," CTU field rep coordinator Sarah Echevarria said. "No one can say there is nothing we can do." The members were reminded that they had to be specific about any problems they were facing, just as they would expect a principal to be precise about a complaint against a teacher.

A key question about the current reform leadership team was raised by Ed Gallagher, a delegate at Hope High School. Speaking of reform groups, he said: "What we've seen (in the past) is five years of reform and five years of holding onto power." Gallagher. Others reminded the convention of the challenges faced by a dissident group that finds itself in power.

Teachers and CORE delegate Katie Hogan later explained what went wrong after a powerful group of activists in the Little Village neighborhood held hunger strikes to finally force the Chicago Public Schools to build another high school in an overcrowded area of the city. Hogan said she works at Little Village High School, and that the leadership of the community movement that got the school built later split, to the detriment of the school and the movement for better schools.

"We need to nominate a functional leadership of power," Hogan said. "But the people left behind feel voiceless, they said 'sell outs' and it ruined the very concept. The founders of Social Justice High School don't talk to each other today. We have to be able to run things after the leaders are gone. We need the ability to forgive mistakes before shouting out sell outs. If people get so angry, we'll lose the heart of our mission."

Certainly, the heart of the CORE mission stayed intact during the convention's two days. While vigorous debate and questions were raised about the by-laws and direction of the caucus, members were cordial and respectful, and people left the two-day meeting feeling empowered and being part of a collective and cohesive group that shocked the country by winning an election to the third largest teachers' union in the country. An all-day debate over the caucus's by-laws was viewed as important, even though most would have characterized it as tedious at times.

"As a veteran of highly contentious union politics, I am really impressed with what happened today," said Earl Silbar, a retired City Colleges instructor, who is an associated member of CORE. "There was a feeling of comradeship and fellowship."

In terms of voting procedures, an interesting debate ranged on whether there should be another election or the next highest vote getter be named into a vacated leadership position on the steering committee.

Michael Brunson argued in favor of the next highest vote getter in the spirit of democracy. Karen Lewis noted that Brunson's election as Recording Secretary was being contested by Mary Orr who ran on the UPC ticket. Orr argued that because Brunson was a displaced teacher (more than a hundred of whom were "honorably terminated" a by the Board of Education after the June 11 runoff election), he should be ineligible. Orr has been arguing that Orr, the next highest vote getter, should be the new recording secretary, Lewis said.

Brunson, who still argued for the next highest vote getter, said that he had paid dues as a CTU member, was a member in good standing at the time of the election and runoff (May 21 and June 11) and is therefore still eligible to hold office. Siding with Lewis, Substance reporter George Schmidt, who is now working as a consultant at the CTU, reminded the delegates that when he ran for CTU president in 1984 and came in second, he was faced with a similar situation. The newly elected president, incumbent Robert Healey, resigned his CTU post almost immediately after the 2004 vote to take the position of Secretary Treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor. Healey appointed his vice president, Jacqueline Vaughn, to be president, and Schmidt's caucus did not formally oppose the appointment. Vaughn went on to lead the union until her death in January 1994, being elected to the office of president in 1986, 1988, 1990, and 1992.

Others pointed out that it would prove challenging to keep records of who had gotten a certain number of votes in the future, noting also that the problem would arise if some of the vote getters were no longer in the school system. After a thorough discussion, it was decided to keep the present formula for filling steering committee vacancies. The leadership will continue deciding who to name or hold another election, as was the case with Potter after he was ruled inelgible to run as vice president on the CORE ticket.

Another important amendment that spelled furthering the cause of democracy was agreed when the wording from "The steering committee is responsible for all facets of CORE" was changed to "Convention and membership meetings are the highest bodies of CORE and the steering committee will serve as the executive agent."

The entire day on August 22 was devoted to clarifying the caucus's by-laws. The process precluded some workshops on activist issues that had been on the agenda, to the disappointment of some, but at every point where a vote was taken to continue the completion of the by-laws, the overwhelming majority continued. Jackson Potter reminded people throughout the lengthy debates that it was a job that had to be done.

At the end of the session, Carol Caref made many people laugh by inviting people to join some of the group at Simone's restaurant, a regular CORE place. Caref said she'd drink with people on one condition. "Nobody is allowed to talk about by-laws," she said to widespread laughter as the convention adjourned. 


August 22, 2010 at 1:06 PM

By: Cora Pina

CTU Leaders

I believe that the new CTU leaders should be active participants in CORE because from my understanding most of these leaders were the founders of CORE. CORE is a new organization that is growing and that fights for the working class people and working conditions of all workers, including teachers. I think all workers or people who serve or work in their communities should be allow to participate in CORE. Young and old, doctors, teachers, lawyers, political figures, students, university students, Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Muslims,African American, white, Hispanic, etc. It is important that the people govern this city and country and not only the politicians. WE need to fight to make Unions stronger and for every working class citizens' rights and their working conditions, for fair, equal, and prosperous opportunities. We need to work to serve the needy and not the greedy. We need to work as a united organization and not divided. We need to work and include all people, including the powerful and weak. In doing so we will grow not only in the hundreds and thousands, but perhaps in the millions and we will truly make a difference for all the working class.

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