Vigorous Delegate Debate Cut Short at February 14 CTU House of Delegates Meeting

It was a tug of war, except with a twist. Instead of one rope, there were two ropes twisted together in which four groups of people were pulling each other in different directions. That's what it felt like at the Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates meeting at the Operating Engineer's Hall on Monday, February 14.

The battle began after CTU President Karen Lewis blessed the opening round by reminding delegates to be respectful of each other when they debate over whether or not the CTU should endorse a candidate to be the next mayor of Chicago.

Many eyes across the city were watching to see who finally the CTU would back and possibly give a boost in the final stretch of a mayoral race with six candidates — front runner and corporate-backed Rahm Emanuel; Daley insider and former Chicago Board of Education president Gery Chico; former US Senator Carol Moseley Braun; and Chicago City Clerk and long time independent politico Miguel Del Valle. The race also has two less recognized but just as eager candidates: Doc Walls and Patricia Watkins.

In the end the CTU made no endorsement — after a quorum was called in which a head count revealed that there were not enough delegates present to continue to conduct business. The quorum call was made during a debate on a motion to endorse Miguel Del Valle by members of the United Progressive Caucus, the group that was unseated by Karen Lewis and the current union leadership in June 2010.

When Lewis first announced that the executive board recommended an endorsement for Carol Mosely-Braun, many in the audience shook their heads and voiced their displeasure. Afterwards, several delegates spoke in favor of endorsing Miguel Del Valle - whose progressive credentials include voting againt the Amendatory Act of 1995 (which took away many of the teachers' bargaining rights), fully supporting public education and defending public school teachers long under attack in the corporate media. Teachers were reminded that the Amendatory Act gave Mayor Richard M. Daley complete control over the Chicago Public Schools and made Gery Chico the first President of the "Chicago School Reform Board of Trustees" in 1995, at the same time Daley made Paul Vallas the first "Chief Executive Officer" ever to run a school system in Illinois.

But then the tug of war began with rope one pulling first. That came in the form of an amendment to the original motion to support whoever was the runner-up candidate against Emanuel in the run-off election (if Emanuel or anyone else does not get at least 50% of the votes). The amendment was made by Jack Silver, who chairs the CTU Pension and Insurance Committee.

Quickly, several delegates, including Substance reporter and retiree delegate George Schmidt, spoke against the amendment, noting that should that candidate be Chico, it would be against the teachers' interests. They noted Chico supports charter schools, longer school days and school year, a CEO and not superintendent to run the schools (he said he would like to hire back Paul Vallas) and not an elected school board.

That amendment was quickly voted down.

Pulling hard on the other side of the rope was amendment number two to the original motion, to make no endorsement. One delegate stated that, "if we vote for someone who loses, it will hurt us."

This "no endorsement" amendment started to gain traction, as others spoke in favor of no endorsement. Quickly the question was called for no more debate on this amendment and 147 delegates voted in favor of no endorsement, versus 124 delegates who voted against the no endorsement.

But, delegates were then informed that they were back to the original motion on an endorsement because the no endorsement vote was only an amendment, and not the motion to begin with.

That's when the third end of the second rope in the tug of war began. That was the fight against no endorsement, again, because of two factors. 1) It was noted that in informal polling, 20 percent of the teachers indicated they would vote for Emanuel. Therefore, the CTU has to be strong and tell its members who to vote for, and 2) The teachers can't be afraid to make an endorsement because that would show fear. The police, for example, endorsed Chico, on principal rather than any fear of retribution.

Karen Lewis pointed out earlier in the meeting that the Teamsters told her they endorsed Emanuel because that's who their members wanted. It's interesting to think why union members would want to endorse a candidate who is clearly on the side of business and against unions, but some Teamsters had already told Substance that the Emanuel endorsement had come from the Teamsters Joint Council and was not supported by every Teamster local in Chicago.

The press and his opponents have finally begun to point out that during his less than three years out of "public service", Emanuel made his $18.5 million as an investment banker — "relationship banking" he told the Sun Times — by fixing mergers that resulted in thousands of layoffs. He told the Chicago Federation of Labor he would cut current worker pensions and is running thinly veiled anti-union commercials that state city workers should be "service oriented."

Delegates seemed to agree that an endorsement was important, so they began pulling harder on the other side.

But then, in an ironic twist, delegate and CTU trustee Jay Rehak, who serves as a trustee on the pension board, suggested what the political action committee originally proposed, to endorse two candidates — Braun and Del Valle. The chair (Karen Lewis) ruled that she had heard a second to Rehak's proposal, so the debate was on again.

The executive board had voted against this recommendation, with many arguing that the union had to endorse one candidate (this reporter is on the CTU executive board, political action committee and a school delegate). That is why the executive board decided to endorse Braun.

This seemed to generate more spirited discussion, although clearly the air in the room did not seem receptive to any type of a Braun endorsement and a number of delegates said from the floor that they had held meetings (some of them quite large) at their schools and that the sentiment among the teachers was in support of Del Valle.

But then it happened. The fourth rope pulled hard, upending all the others, and suddenly the quorum was called by members of the United Progressive Caucus, and the meeting ended. No endorsement, not because it was the final official vote — but because no decision could be made because there were not enough delegates present.

According to Lewis, the vote revealed 224 delegates were present, short of the 292 member quorum needed to continue to conduct union business.

Certainly, a passionate debate at the house displayed democracy front and center, with all its pains and struggles and euphoria.

Some speculated afterwards that politics played a role in the ultimate outcome. For example, one teacher who preferred to remain anonymous, noted that many delegates affiliated with the United Progressive Caucus (UPC), the former union leadership party, exited the meeting so that there would not be a quorum. However, the CTU Caucus of Rank and File (CORE) leadership's original plan to endorse Braun did not work, so the quorum didn't exactly destroy the UPC's opponent's plans. Lewis and other union officials stayed out of the debate, although the appointed chairman of the Political Action Committee, Stacy Davis Gates, spoke forcefully about being "realistic" (in support of the Braun endorsement).

"I'm a little disappointed," Lewis told a press conference after the delegates' meeting. "We were looking to support something, rather than be against someone."

One reporter asked Lewis if the union polled its members to see who they liked. She stated that a poll needs to be scientifically based, and just calling members would not satisfy this.

Many polls that put Emanuel way ahead of the rest of the candidates seem to reflect more the corporate owner's views; Chicago Sun Times and Chicago Tribune both endorsed Emanuel and publish its polls — rather than a more objective scientific analysis as Lewis points out. But the polls have been challenged widely as inaccurate, especially since the same polling methods had put Bill Brady ahead in the governor's race less than a week before the November 2, 2010 election that saw Illinois keeping Pat Quinn as governor. One delegate, Adam Heenan, told the House meeting that the polling done by the Tribune didn't call voters who only used cell phones and asked how many people in the meeting had been called as part of the Tribune poll.

"And what's wrong with Rahm," asked the Sun Times during the press conference.

"Rahm seems to be against public education, so we couldn't vote for someone against our interests," Lewis said.


February 16, 2011 at 1:32 PM

By: The Retired Principal (RP)

Chico no!

Chico, no!

February 17, 2011 at 6:20 AM


Mayoral Endorsement


February 24, 2011 at 11:05 AM

By: now a day to day sub


Well we all understand that the mayor elect does no work well with Unions, especially the CTU.

Time will tell. It seems that America is becoming more polatized where the rich get richer and the poor poorer without a middle class.

CPS will have a monkey on its back in 2012 when the contract is up for renewal.

February 24, 2011 at 11:06 AM

By: day to day sub


sorry for all the typos

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