CTU reacts angrily to 'Management by Publicity Stunt' in waiver vote

Officers of the Chicago Teachers Union reacted with fury on the Friday before the Labor Day weekend began, upon learning that Jean-Claude Brizard, the controversial Chief Executive Officer of Chicago's public schools, had announced by press release that two Chicago elementary schools had supposedly voted for a waiver of the union contract earlier in the day. According to the union officials, the union had received no information either from the schools or from the Board of Education that the supposed votes had taken place. By late afternoon, a third school had been added to the list, a school that had not even held its first class for students.

After hearing about the waiver votes supposedly taken at three Chicago elementary schools (one of which has not had a single class yet since it is opening this school year), Chicago Teachers Union scheduled a press conference on the Friday afternoon as the Labor Day weekend began. "This is an insult to all of our 30,000 members," CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey told a small press conference hastily convened at the union's Merchandise Mart offices at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, September 2, 2011.

The two elementary schools were Skinner North Elementary School (640 W. Scott St.) and Melody Elementary (412 S. Keeler). According to union officials, union records showed that Skinner North had 14 teachers and Melody had 23. Under the union's contract rules, waiver votes are supposed to take place upon 48 hours' notice and by secret ballot. In most cases, waivers are voted on by union teachers on the school's staff (other staff at the schools are also members of the CTU, or of other unions representing school workers). By late afternoon, union sources were saying that none of the waiver votes had been conducted legally according to the union contract.

During the 3:00 p.m. press conference (which began 20 minutes late), Sharkey told reporters who were able to make the event that the union had not been informed either by the schools or by CPS that the supposed waiver votes had taken place.

Later in the afternoon, union officials said that they had heard that a third school, the new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) school (1522 W. Flournoy) had also voted on a contract waiver. STEM has not yet held its first class, since it is opening this school year. According to one union staff member, the school did not yet have a union delegate, and was therefore not legally able to hold a waiver vote without requesting that the vote be conducted by the union's representatives.

In a statement issued by the union, Sharkey charged "CTU contends that the Board has coerced principals to force this waiver vote on their staff. We have heard of gifts being offered as bribes to teachers and other concessions if they vote for a longer school day."

The CTU also provided reporters with a copy of a grievance filed against the Board of Education on August 30 on the waiver questions. The grievance, which was submitted to Cheryl Colson, Director of Labor and Employee Relations at CPS on August 30,m states: "The Chicago Teachers Union contends that individual school principals have demanded that the school Union Delegate , and all bargaining unit members, take a WAIVER vote to increase the school day an additional 90 minutes per day. The Chicago Teachers Union views this demand by the school principals as a form of coercion and a violation of the Agreement and Board Policy!'"

Union officials also told Substance that the union was consulting attorneys about whether the Chicago Board of Education had violated Illinois labor law and basic union contract law by offering incentives directly to teachers at the schools through the principals. Under Article 1 of the Agreement between the Board of Education of the City of Chicago and the Chicago Teachers Union (the contract), the law and the contract bar management from negotiating directly with union members. It is a long-established principle of labor law that the boss cannot circumvent the union's right to represent its members. The concept of management going directly to the workers is basic to the version of economic reality pushed by corporations like Wal Mart, which maintain that every worker has the power to negotiate his or her terms and conditions of employment in an individual negotiation with the corporation.

At approximately noon on September 2, 2011, the Chicago Public Schools Office of Communications issued the press release below, which was received by Substance at the Substance email address (and was apparently received by other news organizations as well). The press release includes a quotation which supposedly has been made both by Mayor Emanuel and CEO Brizard.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:. September 2, 2011. Statement from Mayor Emanuel and CPS CEO Brizard on Teachers that Voted in Favor of Longer School Day Today at Their Schools

CHICAGO—This morning, teachers at Genevieve Melody Elementary and Skinner North Elementary schools voted on a waiver that would lengthen their school day by 90 minutes. The passage of waivers require a 50% + 1 of all voting teachers. Both schools received the required 50% + 1 to pass the waiver and extend their school day by 90 minutes.

Statement by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard:

“We thank the courageous teachers and principals today for their dedication to investing in our children’s future by supporting a longer school day. This is a historic step forward in bringing the kind of change we need in the classroom to help our children get the world class education they deserve. Despite the hard work of teachers throughout the system, our children are falling behind. They need more time in the classroom to be successful. Teachers stood up today to say they want to help lead this change. We support them and commend them for the message they are sending to our city that our children must come first. We hope more principals, teachers and parents will come together to put our children first.”

The Labor Day weekend announcement follows weeks of public relations work by Chicago's mayor claiming that the Chicago Teachers Union should be willing to accept a "two percent" raise (after CPS rescinded the contractual four percent raise for all unionized workers at its first June meeting) and an extension of the school day by 90 minutes. The campaign by Mayor Rahm Emanuel has included demonstrations at the Chicago Board of Education led by preachers who support the mayor (and are often subsidized directly or indirectly by City Hall) and an announcement on the "Chicago Tonight" TV show by Brizard that the Board was "offering" two percent for the longer school day the mayor was demanding.

Reporters were challenged sorting out the story because it broke late on the Friday before a major holiday, but some of the story was developing by late on September 2.

The principal of "Skinner North Elementary School" is proud of his school.At Skinner North Elementary School, Skinner North Principal Ethan Netterstrom told Substance that the vote took place on the morning of September 2, and the result was a "Yes" vote of 9 to 6. The school has 15 teachers, one clerk, one security aide, on special education aide, and one assistant principal, according to Netterstrom.

He confirmed that CPS officials had told him that the school would receive an additional $150,000 if it approved the waiver. He said that the only condition he was aware of was that the money could not be used to pay teachers for an extended school day. Earlier, a Substance source had told Substance that CPS had made the $150,000 offer, and Substance tried to speak with CPS Chief Communications Officer Becky Carroll to confirm the story. Four hours after Substance first left messages for Carroll, she still hadn't returned the Substance calls or contacted Substance by e-mail about the fact of the $150,000 per school offer. Substance made its last attempt to talk with her at 8:00 p.m. on September 2.

Calls to CPS Chief Communications Officer Becky Carroll were not returned as of the evening of September 2, so Substance was not able to confirm the conditions of the use of the $150,000 or how much money, total, is available from CPS if other elementary schools were to decide to take CPS up on the same offer.

It is also unclear what the "two percent raise" attached to the extra 90 minutes means. According to several sources who asked to remain anonymous because they are in a position to face retaliation from the city or CPS, the teachers have also been promised a raise of "two percent" for accepting the waiver, although at press time it was unclear as to "two percent of what?"

One rumor has it that all teachers, regardless of their time in the system, would receive a raise based on two percent of the average Chicago teacher salary, which this year, according to estimates, is just under $70,000 per year.

But starting teachers (which includes some of the staffs of places like Skinner North) earn $20,000 less than the average.

No one has provided Substance with a copy of the exact wording of the "two percent" offer, and one union official predicted that the promised raise would prove a disappointment to the teachers who have supported the deal, predicting that they would be calling the union sometime during the school year to file a union grievance when the "raise" was either not paid or not paid in the amount they had been led to believe in early September. The wording of the waiver materials upon which the teachers allegedly voted does not include the specifics of the raise claim.

The math behind the $150,000 per school deal (which has been confirmed, but not in detail by top CPS officials) is clear enough.

"At Skinner, that comes to $10,000 per teacher," CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey told Substance after the union leaders independently confirmed the $150,000 figure.

Officials noted that if all 400 CPS elementary schools were to vote for waivers as demanded by Brizard and Emanuel, the total cost would be at least $70 million. Since June 17, CPS officials have claimed that they were facing such an enormous "deficit" that they didn't have any money to pay for the four percent raise guaranteed to teachers and other union workers in CPS under the terms of the fifth year of the system's seven union contracts.

By late on September 2, questions were also being raised about whether a waiver referendum would apply to all those who work at the schools in question. In addition to the teachers who allegedly voted in favor of the deal, each school has administrators (a principal and at least one assistant principal), an engineers, lunchroom, custodial and other staff. Additionally, so-called "citywide" staff are at the schools on assigned days, and their rights have now been affected by the votes of the teachers whom the mayor is praising for their "courage". 

[Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article appeared on the August 2011 Substance Home Page, but because of technical matters could not be reported earlier on the September Home Page].


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