Call to action at Chicago Teachers Union January 2011 meeting

The Chicago Teachers Union leadership went into overdrive Wednesday night, January 5, 2011, at the House of Delegates meeting to fire up an army of teachers to fight back against legislation proposed in Springfield that seeks to dismantle teachers' collective bargaining rights, tenure, and the ability to strike.

Chicago Teachers Union officials, including Vice President Jesse Sharkey, Communications Director Liz Brown, and Legislative Coordinator Xian Barrett followed the proceedings in Aurora closely for the CTU on December 16. Seated in front of Sharkey are the three people who testified on behalf of Illinois Stand for Children. The lurid and somewhat fictionalized narratives presented on behalf of corporate "school reform," from the Stand for Children and Advance Illinois witnesses drew chuckles from audience members, but the members of the House "school reform" committee dutifully took notes even at the most outrageous attacks on teachers and unions presented by the corporate-funded official "reform" groups and their well-paid representatives. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt."It was eye opening how quickly they fired the gun at us," CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey told the delegates at the Union of Operating Engineers on January 5. "It's not clear we're going to stop this, but we will know we've made a conscious effort to stop it."

The fast-track proposed legislation called Performance Counts comes courtesy of the Gates Foundation and two foundation-funded Illinois groups (Advance Illinois and Stand for Children) to severly curb teacher union rights that include job protections and contract negotiations over class size and school schedules. "Performance Counts" is expected to be voted on by both houses of the Illinois General Assembly before the current lame duck session adjourns on January 11.

But not without a strong fight from a revamped Chicago Teachers Union.

Sharkey said there are three things the delegates need to do to stop this potentially devastating bill. 1) inform co-workers, 2) contact legislators to vote no, and 3) reach out to the community.

"That's how we will win this fight," said Sharkey, in a powerful five-minute speech in sharp contrast to his predecessor, the former CTU vice president (Ted Dallas), who rarely was allowed to speak at all by former CTU president Marilyn Stewart.

Of course, the tables have turned since the economy collapsed two years ago. These are turbulent times in which the corporate class is demanding major teacher union concessions across the country. The pressure is especially great on the three largest locals of the American Federation of Teachers, in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City, as is being reported in Substance.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis (above left) testified on December 16 (above) and December 17 at the Aurora hearings of the House "School Reform" special committee. Dan Montgomery, President of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, above right, also testified both days. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.CTU President Karen Lewis, sporting a sore throat after speaking to about 20 legislators to lobby against the bill in Springfield this week, told the delegates that the union is proposing their own bill called Accountability for All to reform education.

CTU lawyers are working with representatives of both the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association on the language of a draft of the bill, Lewis said.

Lewis, also in stark contrast to her predecessor Marilyn Stewart who spoke more in short sound bites, informed her delegates about the rough game being played downstate. She said CPS told politicians in Springfield that just the threat of a strike causes the Board of Education to "fold and give up everything," and that CPS has been begging for a longer school day. Lewis quoted some of the more dubious "studies" that CPS officials are using the blame the CTU for the problems of Chicago's schools.

Lewis's predecessor, Marilyn Stewart, helped sell her controversial five-year teachers contract in August 2007 — with a 20 percent pay raise that ends in 2012 — by saying the mayor really wanted a longer school day.

Lewis also noted that former CPS Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman, who resigned at the end of November, continues to bad mouth teachers and was actively lobbying against the CTU in Springfield, among other things by telling legislators that Chicago school teachers' ACT scores are "low" without telling the legislators how he got this information and what it means. This drew gasps from many in the crowd at the House of Delegates, who have been recepients of Huberman's memos and emails touting his data management and how wonderful a job the teachers are doing.

"My ACT score was zero because I didn't take the thing," said Lewis, who received her undergraduate degree from Dartmouth.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis (second from left above) listened carefully as the representatives of "Stand for Children" repeated their carefully constructed supposedly personal narratives, then launched into a series of undocumented charges against teachers and unions that they claimed, without providing the committee with any citations, were supported by what they call "research." Part of what Karen Lewis called the "existential" reality of the hearings was that Illinois lawmakers are prepared to accept, uncritically, even the most bizarre nonsense about public schools, teachers, and teacher unions, while taking aim at the teachers' rights in the real world. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt."We asked [legislator supporters of Performance Counts] if there was a bill and they said no," Lewis said about the games being played in Springfield. "But sure, there was a draft of a bill and on Friday (December 17, at the hearing in Aurora). They asked us to 'turn to page 40,'" Lewis told the delegates.

She was referring to the "Performance Counts" proposed legislation that Advance Illinois and Stand for Children (with the support of the Illinois Business Roundtable and the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago) had presented to the members of the House "school reform" committee at hearing in Aurora on December 16 and December 17. At the time Lewis spoke to the delegates, on January 5, it was technically true that there was no "bill" because nobody had agreed to sponsor a bill. But the document that had been circulating since December, drafted and presented to the House "school reform" committee, was in the form of a bill. Substance has also learned that the House "school reform" committee did not maintain a stenographer's transcript of the December 16 and December 17 hearings, which were previously reported in part in and in the January print edition of Substance. It is almost as if the actual wording of the law will be kept secret until, at the last minute, members of the Illinois House and Senate are told to vote on it.

If the proposed legislation passes, Lewis said, all teachers can do is bargain for wages and benefits. The proposal that was discussed on December 16 and December 17 covered all union teachers in Illinois, not just Chicago.

"The Tribune calls us greedy teachers," she said, referring to what would happen if the law made it impossible for the union to bargain over class size and other working conditions. "But (bargaining over) class size is for the students ..."

She went on to go over the things that we would be barred from bargaining over if the new legislation passes the General Assembly in the coming seven days.

Lewis detailed a warning about the impact of the corporate media on the unions' lobbying work in Springfield. "We are losing the PR battle after thirty years of teacher and union bashing," she continued. She told the delegates that we need to "flip the script." She said that she's been pointing out (of Stand for Children) that they're outsiders from Oregon. "We need to speak about our relationship to our students. We are the experts," she said.

During Lewis speech she received word that another anti-teacher bill just passed the legislature. The bizarre new law would void a teachers contract six months after a union election.

"You can wait for the union office to do something," Lewis told the delegates in conclusion, "or we can take the place back ourselves." Lewis then asked the delegates to do "instant lobbying" from the meeting. Lewis, and the other officers, took out their cell phones and dialed their own state reps and senators, and many of the delegates did likewise during a short break in the meeting. The meeting then came back to order.

Two items on the agenda, in a sort of anti-climatic moment, both easily passed. The first was naming two new CTU trustees — Bernice Eshoo who will replace Jackson Potter, CTU staff coordinator (who the corporate media refer to as chief of staff), and Lydia Clark, who will replace Sara Echevarria, now CTU field rep coordinator. Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle told the delegates the the Rules-Elections Committee was slowly taking care of the backlog of work it faced. Currently, the committee is holding a mail ballot election for the "functional vice president" for the more than 3,200 retired teachers who are CTU members. There are seven candidates, and only one will be elected. If no one candidate gets a majority of the votes this time around, there will be a runoff, as there was following the May 21 citywide election. The Financial Secretary said that the ballots would be counted at the union offices on January 24. After that, the committee will either be supervising a runoff or moving on to procedures to fill other vacancies that have come up on the CTU executive board.

The next item was a resolution against the FBI raids on trade union, anti-war and solidarity activists. Teacher Sarah Chambers spoke eloquently against the FBI raids that are targeting anti-war protestors and activists. The US government has stated that it can label anyone a "terrorist" if they protest or support countries or organizations that are official US "terrorists."

The resolution, which had been sent back to the CTU human relations committee at the last meeting, passed unanimously. It was introduced to the House of Delegates by Human Relations Committee chair Bill Lamme and outlined by Social Committee chair Sarah Chambers, who drafted the main version of it.

The delegates meeting began on a purely political foot — mayoral candidates Miguel Del Valle and Carol Moseley Braun were invited to speak for five minutes and then answered delegates' questions.

CTU aldermanic coordinator Joey McDermott said after the political action committee (this reporter is a member) reviewed over 160 questionaires, they then asked the canidates for mayor or aldermanic offices to sign a pledge to support a moratorium on the spread of charter schools. Of the 80 requests sent out to candidates, 20 already signed it, McDermott said.

Del Valle's moment of shine with the delegates was when he mentioned that he voted against the 1995 Amendatory Act, which is similar to the current Performance Counts bill that aims at reducing the teacher union's power. The Amendatory Act, which gave Mayor Daley control over what became (for four years) the "Chicago School Reform Board of Trustees", was supported by some Democrats, including House speaker Michael Madigan, and all Republicans, who at the time controlled both houses of the Illinois General Assembly. It was immediately signed into law by then (Republican) Governor Jim Edgar. Del Valle's historical reminder generated a loud and spirited applause on a night of endless tales of woe for teachers.

Carol Moseley Braun's moment of connect with the teachers — in this reporter's humble opinion — was when she said as Recorder of Deeds she gave her city employees, who were also CPS parents, time off to attend report card conferences, something she received a lot of flak about. Today it is standard procedure.

Both candidates who are seeking a CTU endorsement will address the CTU's political action committee next Thursday, January 13. They will answer questions before a decision will be made who the CTU will endorse. The CTU endorsement will then be voted up or down at the next delegates meeting. on February 2, three weeks before the February 22 election.

McDermott also noted that the union will be supporting candidates for alderman in ten or 15 wards, and that union members are being asked to organize candidates' forums for the aldermanic candidates in their wards. 


January 7, 2011 at 2:07 PM

By: Lawrence Balark

Sexism and racism in education

Unfortunately, it is my belief that if teachers unions acroos the states were comprised of White Men it wouldn't be so much talk about busting the unions. However, since the education profession and unions are mostly comprised of women the powers at be want to destroy them leaving them with no protection. Consider this for a moment police departments and fire departments have unions that represent mostly men as a whole and therefore such talk about bashing and dismantling there unions would never be a reality, why? simple because those unions and professions are comprised of mostly men and most of them are caucasian. It is time that as educators we fight these people with the law by filing class action lawsuits in every state citing sexism which is against the law.

January 7, 2011 at 3:22 PM

By: Sarah


I have often wondered why the CTU has enlisted the support of major Women's organizations, who may have more power with the media.

Age discrimination and sexism seem to run rampant at CPS.

January 7, 2011 at 11:57 PM

By: Means Human Chattle

Human Capitol

Missed the meeting getting back from a grueling day in Springfield. Trying to 'educate' those who 'legislate'. That corporate 'reform-gate' will 'decimate' public education. This bill, should it pass will 'subjugate' those who 'populate' the schools most in need of support to relentless chaos, confusion, and ultimate calamity and catastrophe. And then what?

January 9, 2011 at 9:35 AM

By: Jesse Sharkey

Correction--Contracts Not Voided

Jim correctly reports what happened in the meeting, but there is an important correction about what we said from the front. It is NOT the case that a bill had just passed that would cancel teachers contracts within six months of a union election. The actual bill would cancel contracts of about 150,000 state workers who work under the Governor, Sec of State, etc. within six months of the general election. In other words, a new governor could come in and all existing labor contracts would be voided and renegotiated. On Thursday the Senate executive committee voted to 'hold' the bill. It may energe again later.

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