Delegates Reject CTU’s Support of Illinois Senate Bill 7, Demand Major Changes

Teacher delegates unanimously rejected the Chicago Teacher’s Union support for Senate Bill 7, an anti-union bill that currently sits in the state house, at the House of Delegates meeting at the Operating Engineers Hall on Wednesday, May 4, 2011.

The initial support for SB7 — which would make a teachers strike practically impossible and gut many of the collective bargaining rights of teachers — generated much heated debate among teachers, and its union leaders. Following intensive meetings chaired by Illinois Senate Education Committee chair Senator Kimberly Lightford, SB7 passed the Illinois Senate in April by a unanimous vote of 57 - 0. Representatives of the Chicago Teachers Union, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and the Illinois Education Association were all part of the meetings that drafted the legislation.

And certainly the sharks were circling outside Wednesday’s meeting at the Operating Engineers union hall, where the CTU's 800-member House of Delegates holds its monthly meetings. Representatives of caucuses within the CTU were ready to pounce on the CTU leadership. The United Progressive Caucus (UPC) — which was defeated by Karen Lewis and the CORE caucus in the CTU elections in May and June 2011 — circulated flyers that screamed “sell outs.” The PACT caucus (which is chaired by former CTU president Deborah Lynch) mailed delegates flyers denouncing the bill. And former UPC vice president Ted Dallas, who joined up to help CORE defeat the UPC in last year’s election, also criticized the deal in a leaflet in which he criticized CORE but did not identify himself or his affiliation. A year ago, Dallas was one of the leaders of the Caucus for a Strong Democratic Union (CSDU), whose presidential candidate was former CTU treasurer Linda Porter.

But in what could only be called an anti-climatic event, on the agenda at the house meeting was a resolution passed by the executive board to withdraw the CTU’s support for Senate Bill 7, thus eliminating a divided house.

The resolution reads: “ it resolved that the CTU will withdraw its support for Senate Bill 7, be it resolved the CTU will lobby the house of reps to amend SB7 to remove anti-union collective bargaining restrictions of the bill, be it resolved that the CTU will initiate a campaign that informs its members and the public of this anti-union bill and will mobilize the membership to fight in order to keep our collective bargaining rights.”

Former CTU president and PACT founder Debbie Lynch made an amendment to include that the CTU demand the Illinois Federation of Teachers or IFT withdraw its support, noting that 48 percent of the IFT revenues come from Chicago. Not one delegate went to the microphone to speak against the original motion, and the resolution with the amendment passed unanimously.

SB7 singles out the CTU because the bill mandates that only Chicago teachers must have a 75 percent strike vote, whereas the rest of the state still only needs a majority that is currently in place in Chicago. Some members have noted that the legal mandate for a strike vote for Chicago is a direct legislative interference with internal union affairs, since the stipulations for how CTU calls for a strike is included in the union's constitution and by-laws.

The divide and conquer tactics of the bill’s corporate sponsors was evident when Advance Illinois executive director Robin Steans called the president of the Illinois Education Association and asked if they would support an outright ban on striking in Chicago, which is what the new mayor is still seeking in the state house, CTU President Karen Lewis told the delegates at the meeting. Beginning in December 2010, when Advance Illinois and Stand for Children joined the Illinois Business Roundtable in promoting a bill called "Performance Counts 2010," Lewis and the CTU leadership had been working with the leaders of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association against the corporate legislation and on behalf of a compromise. According to Lewis, the relationships among the three large unions have been strengthened by the process.

Instead of going along with the Advance Illinois attack on Chicago's teachers, the IEA stood in unity with the CTU, Lewis said.

“They are terrified in Springfield of the Chicago Teachers Union,” Lewis told the delegates. “That we have an activist union. The bill was all about union busting. But a lot of the bill isn’t what we agreed to, and now all of a sudden they don’t take my phone calls.”

Lewis explained to the members that they had many meetings which only discussed the school and learning environment. But it wasn’t till the last hour of negotiations that language was thrown in to the bill aimed to destroy much of the teachers’ collective bargaining rights.

The CTU's labor lawyer, Robert Block, took the podium and explained they were supposed to read 115 pages of legislation and sign on in only 15 minutes.

That scenario sounded eerily similar to the reason Chicago aldermen gave for giving the thumbs up to a disastrous parking meter privatization bill in the city council that cost the city roughly $1 billion in future revenues.

Alderwoman Sandi Jackson’s chief of staff said they also had only about 15 minutes to vote on something that was over a hundred pages long to read.

“It’s not over,” Lewis said. “Michael Madigan is sitting on this bill, and he’s indicated it hasn’t gone far enough.” Madigan, who is speaker of the Illinois House, is viewed as the most powerful Democrat in Springfield. He has long been hostile to the Chicago Teachers Union.

Lewis said she believed the CTU could get a 75 percent strike vote, but she didn’t know that they meant 75 percent of all active members, meaning if one doesn’t vote, that counts as a no vote.

“I asked Sen. Lightford to hold it, that it would bust our union,” Lewis said. “We were told not to discuss it with our membership.”

The CTU lawyer Robert Block told the delegates that another problem with the bill is part 12B where the Illinois Labor Relations Board would no longer have jurisdiction over unfair labor practices which would “take away any remedy if the Board breaks the contract.”

“How did we let this happen?” Block told the delegates. “This showed up at the last minute. We had 15 minutes to read a 115-page packet.” Block told the delegates that the union had something of an advanced warning that the Chicago Board of Education was about to pull a fast one in the legislative process. He said that in April 2011, the Board filed a motion in Illinois district court asking that the union's unfair labor practice charges against CPS be thrown out for lack of state labor board jurisdiction. At the time, he said, nobody could understand why CPS had put in the court papers, since the law was clear. Now, he said, it is clear that CPS knew someone was going to slip that part into the bill.

Lewis said all the unions agree that 12.B must come out and they will hold meetings to focus on removing it.

While it appears the CTU leadership is trying to play a rigged game in the political arena, Lewis should take credit for bowing to the will of her members. At the April House meeting, she had just completed the work on the legislation, and appeared via Skype to the House, explaining what she had worked to do. The complete text of SB7 did not become available until a week later. At that time, union activists across the city began criticizing the deal. By the end of April, union meetings were being held in schools on almost a daily basis.

The delegates meeting had a feeling of unity and strength and an understanding of the vicious corporate attack that is attempting to break one of the strongest teachers' unions in the country.


May 9, 2011 at 8:11 AM

By: Rod Estvan

the valley of legislative death

Jim Vail’s article gives the best description of what took place at the CTU House meeting last week I have read. It explains a lot. Frankly, I am shocked by this quote from President Lewis: “They are terrified in Springfield of the Chicago Teachers Union, that we have an activist union. The bill was all about union busting. But a lot of the bill isn’t what we agreed to, and now all of a sudden they don’t take my phone calls.”

I don’t think the Speaker of the House or Tom Cross from the Republicans are terrified of the CTU. In fact they are agreed on something very important and that is lowering the costs for education. Part of that agreement could likely be lowering General state aid to schools in Illinois for FY12. The math of that means simply CPS will have even less money to pay teachers, start new charter schools, and have a longer school day. If the CTU has to be eviscerated in order to contain costs, then that is what has to be done from the perspective of the legislative leadership of both parties. If the CTU is a problem, AFSCME is actually problem number one in Springfield.

Government bodies are turning against public sector unions because local and state governments are going broke. They are not going broke because public sector workers make too much and their pensions are so good, but rather because revenues have declined due to the recession. Things are so bad in Illinois that the Speaker is considering adding an amendment to SB7 to force all local taxing school districts to raise property taxes in order to completely shift responsibility for teacher pension funds from the State to local taxing districts. This could kill the bill totally, which would solve the problem.

Jim’s article depicts what can only be called “group think” inside the CTU, various factions jockeying for position. The internal politics of the CTU will not change the larger reality of the fiscal crisis of the State and local government. Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote his poem Charge of the Light Brigade after one of Great Britain’s major military disasters.

Half a league,

half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

If the CTU has to charge into a legislative valley of Death, then let it be knowingly. Not because of an internal faction war. Some times you have no choice but to fight and die, sometimes you can fight and retreat to fight another day.

Rod Estvan

May 9, 2011 at 8:58 AM

By: Bob



His name I forgot, but 50 years ago while working as a field hand on a sod farm

This skinny hillbilly kid uttered these words as he charged headlong into 4

punks who insulted him. His battle cry was “Fuck em I’ll fight em” and into the breech

We went. Our union has a choice to make fight em or run.

Far from a paper tiger this union of ours teaches almost 400,000 students a day

That’s 800,000 parents plus other family members. No other group of professionals

even comes close to having the contact with the public than us. We define the term

direct contact. Anyone who thinks that amount of interaction is not feared by politicians

is wrong .But we have always reserved our power, or worst handed it off to administrators. Why do you

think teacher suppression has become such an art in Chicago.

If you don’t believe me ask yourself how long a teacher would last referring to his students

As “ The vanguard of the proletariat ” ,instead of trying to brainwash kids into taking a different

path of standardized tests.

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