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Illinois Democrats Joining Wisconsin Republicans to Attack Teacher Unions?

Remember when those Wisconsin democratic legislators skipped across the border to hide out in the union-friendly state of Illinois so that the Republican Governor Scott Walker couldn't enact his union bashing legislation that would take away collective bargaining rights and cut public servants wages and benefits? Even though it didn't work, and Walker's odious legislation still passed, it sent a message that the democrats support workers.

Questions continue in Springfield over whether Democrats like Aurora representative Linda Chapa La Via (above center) will eventually help anti union groups like Illinois "Stand for Children" in destroying teachers unions' collective bargaining rights and seniority protections. As co-chairman of the so-called House School Reform Committee (established by House Speaker Michael Madigan in response to demands from Stand for Children and Advance Illinois, both of which are financed by billionaires and are bringing a union busting legislative agenda to Illinois), Chapa La Via co-chaired the December 16 and December 17 hearings on the Stand for Children "Performance Counts" proposal, which failed to get through the lame duck session of the Illinois legislature. Stand for Children began flexing its considerable financial muscle even before is had an illinois office, when it donated $50,000 to the election campaign of Republican Keith Farnham (above left), and $100,000 to an Illinois Democrat (Jetan Gordon of Peoria) just prior to the November 1, 2011 election. In December, as the hearings on "Performance Counts" were being held, Stand for Children raised $3.4 million in a few weeks with the help of Chicago billionaires, led by heiress Penny Prtizker, for its PAC. Local billionaires are putting more money into busting teacher unions in Illinois than into any other midwestern state, including Wisconsin, scene of recent protests. (Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker got less than $50,000 from the infamous Koch brothers; Stand for Children got $590,000 from each of six Pritzkers, and Pritzker spouses). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The Chicago Teachers Union and the Illinois Federation of Teachers spent a lot of money to make sure the Democrats were elected in this state. But apparently, the union-friendly party appears dangerously close to doing the same thing here that the Republicans did in Wisconsin — destroy the unions' ability to collectively bargain.

The IFT is calling for a Town Hall meeting this Sunday to stop the Wisconsin-style attacks here. The following email was blasted out to its members:

"The IFT has heard from reliable sources that the Illinois House of Representatives may soon vote on Wisconsin-style legislation stripping collective bargaining rights from teachers and school employees under the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act. There is a real possibility that a bill could be called as early as March 29.

"Though we do not yet have many details, we must take this threat seriously. IFT President Dan Montgomery will hold a live town hall phone meeting with all IFT members on Sunday, March 28 at 7 pm to discuss what we know, what is at stake for all of us and what we each can do to fight for our rights! To participate or listen in on the call, simply answer your phone on Sunday."

Powerful people revolts have broken out across the world from Egypt forcing out a hated dictator to tens of thousands of working people descending on Madison, Wisconsin to "kill" Gov. Walker's bill.

But now it appears the union leadership in Wisconsin is ready to make huge wage and benefit concessions just to keep their collective bargaining rights. In other words — the dramatic fight in Madison to "kill the bill" that inspired people across the country, is being whittled away by political operatives. In fact, the compromises with Walker's union busting agenda were being offered to Walker even as the protests against the union busting were reaching their peak numbers during the first weeks of March 2011. While crowds were chanting "Kill the Bill!" and farmers were driving their tractors through Madison in support of teachers and other union workers, some union leaders were cutting deals with Walker, having accepted his claims of the need for "budget austerity" and cuts in public services.

While the courts have issued a temporarily halt to the implementation of the law that was passed without the Democrats (based on the Wisconsin Open Meetings law), the Wisconsin union leadership appears to want to focus on a recall campaign to force certain Republicans out of office. A recall campaign would require a year, rather than force the political leadership to listen to the will of the people and gut the whole anti-union bill.

In Illinois both houses and the governor are Democrats. The Chicago Teachers Union and the Illinois Federation of Teachers put up significant cash and manpower to make sure Gov. Pat Quinn was elected over a Walker wannabe named Bill Brady. Quinn's November 2, 2010 victory was largely because of the work of the unions — especially the teachers' unions. Teachers generally realized that a Brady victory (which seemed likely based on the polls as late as a week before the voting) would be a disaster for Illinois (something that voters in many other states apparently missed). So Pat Quinn became Illinois governor even though he only won two of the state's counties.

But what did the newly elected Democrat governor say in his first press conference after his come-from-behind victory thanks in no small part to the teachers unions? "We need to hold teachers more accountable," he said, giving comfort to outfits like Stand for Children.

And the IFT appears to be in full agreement.

The IFT posted an article on its facebook page entitled "Moving the needle: Illinois is notorious for its politics, but compromise on performance-based education reform inches forward" that appeared in the River Cities Reader, a newspaper published in Davenport, Iowa.

The article gives the business community's perspective about why teachers need to give up their union protections and be held "accountable." State Sen. Kimberely Lightford, a Democrat who has been negotiating the new law, helped to temporarily derail the Performance Counts bill proposed earlier this year by the billionaire-financed Stand for Children lobby group. But she told the reporter Jeff Ignatius that there should be a compromise bill ready by April 1.

The report states that Lightford and others are considering two proposals — Performance Counts which is supported by the business community, and Accountability for All crafted by the IFT, the Illinois Education Association (IEA) and the CTU.

Both proposals have a lot in common, the article states, such as using teacher performance to fill positions, grant tenure, who gets laid off and recalled and the ability to quickly fire poorly performing tenured teachers.

Also, performance evaluation will "probably involve determining what students learned over the course of the year — through subject-area tests at the beginning and end of school years," the article stated.

The article then allows Illinois Business Roundtable president Jeff Mays to make the case why seniority and tenure hurt education. "The tenured teachers are absolutely insulated from RIFing. They’re insulated from any performance-evaluation consequences at all from a practical standpoint."

And at least some of the leaders of the teacher unions agree! "We’re not afraid of accountability," the Illinois Education Association’s Audrey Soglin told the paper.

Seniority was put in place years ago to protect teachers from arbitrary attacks from administrators who would target veteran teachers because they either cost too much or would battle for better workplace conditions, such as class size. In fact, one of the most common scandals coming out of charter schools in Chicago is how the charters deliberately exploit young and inexperienced teachers, often desperate for any teaching job (some times because of college loan debt), then dump them after they become veterans and are eligible for higher pay on the charters' own salary schedules.

So, no longer will seniority be the main factor governing layoffs should this legislation go further.

Sen. Lightford told the reporter that the unions "bent a lot" last year with the state's Race to the Top application and Performance Evaluation Reform Act (Chicago is the only city in the state where the teachers can be solely evaluated on a standardized test score).

However, like in Wisconsin, the union leadership is standing firm on collective bargaining rights, which the business community will not "bend on," the article stated. Sen. Lightford declined to say if she will move the bill forward without the collective-bargaining components of Performance Counts, the article noted.

Once again, can we say "Show me the money!" The billionaires' financed Stand for Children wrote out two hefty checks to two representatives on the education reform committee in October and November, but they (one Democrat and one Republican) still refused to move the Performance Counts bill forward. So are they ready to deliver the union knockout punch now that the dust has settled from up north? 



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