Senate Bill 7 Hits CTU Hard
Once the ugly details came out regarding Illinois Senate Bill 7 — which the Chicago Teachers Union endorsed and which is awaiting the governor’s signature after nearly unanimously passing the House (there was one "No" vote and one abstention)— panic set in.
It turns out that the bill Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis and the Illinois teachers unions agreed to contained a direct attack on the teachers unions that even the CTU claims they never agreed to.
In addition to mandating that Chicago teachers have a virtually impossible 75 percent strike vote (unlike the rest of the state which still requires only a majority), SB7 removed the oversight of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB) of the Chicago Public Schools.
In other words, all those grievances filed against abusive principals not properly following the teachers contract would be null and void.
By May 18, the CTU was encouraging members to contact legislators to support a “trailer bill” which would restore the IELRB authority and change the mandate from a 75 percent vote of all active members to 75 percent of those who actually vote.
However, a lot of questions remain unanswered.
Did the CTU really not know what was in the bill that they endorsed? Or are they telling the truth that this was never in the bill they agreed on? And if it wasn’t, why did they have to wait until they were presented with an executive board resolution denouncing support for SB7 to start complaining publically?
CTU President Karen Lewis says she never agreed to such a deal, but state senator Kimberly Lightford, who is chairman of the Senate Education Committee, says that is not true, that Lewis knew what was in the bill.
Lightford was in charge of keeping a tight lid on the negotiations of the bill with about 20 organizations that included business groups such as Advance Illinois and the Business Roundtable, the unions, and school districts.
Lewis has told the delegates that the problem was the negotiations focused on school policy for about two months, and labor issues did not appear until the last hour.
At the April 7, 2011, House of Delegates meeting in which the executive board resolution was passed to withdraw support for SB7, Lewis asked CTU labor lawyer Robert Bloch to speak about the bill to the delegates.
Bloch told the teachers that the union team had only about 15 minutes to read over a hundred pages.
What Lewis did not tell the delegates is that Bloch, who specializes in labor law, did not join Lewis in the room to tell her to sign onto the embarrassing deal, according to union sources who wished to remain anonymous.
There was another lawyer who joined Lewis in the room and recommended that the union sign on the dotted line. Who was this lawyer, and why was this person there and not Bloch who addressed the delegates the other week?
These are questions Lewis has so far refused to answer.
When it comes to negotiations, there is always the question of who is doing the negotiations. Many have questioned who is in the room when the Board of Ed or politicians sit down to negotiate with the teachers union.
One of the charges former CTU president Marilyn Stewart threw at Lewis and her reform CORE slate (which this reporter is a member of) during last year’s elections was “inexperience.” While Stewart’s United Progressive Caucus or UPC had run the union for 37 of the past 40 years (Debby Lynch beat the UPC in 2001 to serve one term), CORE had just been formed a mere two years ago.
Ironically, one union source noted that the charge of ‘inexperience’ has merit. Lewis certainly was an inexperienced negotiator, and her partner most likely was as well. As some may say, they sat down like two young lambs in a room filled with wolves.
How happy were the wolves after Lewis signed off on the new future law that will increase the school day and year and gut seniority as a factor in teacher layoffs? The Sun Times reported Chicago Mayor Emanuel “could barely contain his glee” while former Chicago schools chief and current education secretary Arne Duncan said “every state committed to education reform should take notice.”
SB7 makes it easier to fire teachers, uses evaluations rather than seniority, and puts serious restrictions in Chicago on striking, including mandating up to 120 days after a dispute goes to a special panel, and then if it’s not resolved, another 10-day notice would push a strike into the middle of the school year, if the teachers could do what has never been done before – generate a 75% strike vote from all active CTU members, including those who do not vote because they are not full members.
As one elementary teacher grumbled, everything the veteran teachers fought for on the picket lines (the last strike was in 1987) is being given back.
The lone nay vote on SB7 in the Illinois House, Rep. Monique Davis, perhaps best summed it up: “I’m not going to be a union buster, and especially starting with my own city.”
Certainly, Lewis is learning fast. She started her term last summer on a strong foot by refusing to give up the teachers’ raises despite strong pressure from Daley and former schools chief Ron Huberman who claimed the Board of Education was facing a billion dollar deficit.
In an unprecedented move for conducting union business in Chicago, Lewis took a team of over 20 rank and file teachers and union employees to the negotiations in which they refused to hand over the teachers’ raises.
Lewis repeatedly tells the public that she listens to the teachers; “the delegates are my boss,” she is fond of saying.
Only this time, she did a complete about face. She decided to play by the corporate political rules of back- door negotiating and keeping the members in the dark.
And she lost.
What happens next remains to be seen.