CTU House Meeting Report

The Chicago Teachers Union presented a detailed budget that included a beefed-up organizing department for the delegates to vote on at the last House of Delegates meeting of the school year on Wednesday, June 1 at the Operating Engineers Hall.

However, members of the United Progressive Caucus, which lost last year’s election to the CORE slate, cried foul and union busting, noting the increase in the number of coordinators hired came at the expense of the number of field reps, four of whom are retiring and were honored at the meeting – Nate Dickson, Sharon Orlowek, James Riley and Maria Rodriguez.

“I see the drop in the number of field reps and more coordinators, isn’t that a form of union busting,” said former CTU financial secretary Mark Ochoa, who was just elected to the executive board.

The field reps who handle grievances against the teachers’ contract are represented by the Teamsters. The CTU is hiring coordinators, who in addition to handling grievances, are working on health, organizing, lobbying and other issues.

“Everyone in a CPS school is assigned a coordinator who knows the contract,” responded CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey. “We have an increase in the number of people defending the members’ rights.”

The UPC-affiliated delegates’ sudden concern over the number of field rep positions being eliminated appeared to be a political move.

The CTU leadership said they can hire more organizers (eight more positions were created) for less.

“We’re paying less for them, that’s why we can hire more,” Sharkey said.

The field reps are currently represented by the Teamsters (who endorsed union-buster Rahm Emanuel for mayor) in a contract that reeks of corruption.

Some of the field reps, including those who were ironically honored by the leadership at Wednesday’s meeting, are making more than $200,000 thanks to a deal the UPC struck when they lost their first union election to Debbie Lynch and PACT in 2001.

In addition to many earning up to a $140,000 per year salary, the reps’ compensation packages include a $240 per month cell phone allowance, a $1,000 per month car allowance, 85 percent reimbursement for car expenses, and the kicker — a 21 percent annuity on top of their regular teacher pension plan.

Like her predecessor Lynch, CTU president Karen Lewis took aim at the perks by hiring coordinators who no longer earn the 21 percent annuity, and eliminated the $1,000 per month car allowance, severance pay which had totaled up to more than four weeks of pay and cut the $240 per month cell phone allowance to $100 per month.

The CTU said this cut in the perks and benefits of the current elected officers, as well as replacing the field reps with coordinators who no longer receive these perks, has resulted in considerable savings to allow the union to beef up its organizing department.

Lynch told Substance that when she became president, she also immediately eliminated the outrageous perks and benefits of the field reps, which added up to almost 20 percent of their salaries. However, she noted that many of those field reps then worked against her in the schools, thus undermining her work to build a strong union and direct more resources toward building a fighting union that the current CORE leadership is trying to do as well.

One delegate asked if the coordinators could be represented by a union, to which the leadership said yes. But the question that was not asked is why is another union representing already unionized field reps? The field reps are still members of the CTU bargaining group, while being additionally represented by the teamsters.

“The problem is there is a union within a union,” Lynch said after the delegates meeting.

A quorum was then called so that no vote was taken on the budget. A quorum mandates that a majority of delegates must be present at the meeting in order to make votes on resolutions or motions binding. Despite the quorum call, the current budget remains in effect until the new budget is voted on.



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