Are coerced waiver votes legal under Illinois labor law?

The Chicago Public Schools announced on September 2, 2011 that three schools waived their contractual rights agreed to work longer days. One of those schools is just beginning, one has a tiny staff, and the third is raising as many questions as answers. But the story, about no more than one percent of the city's elementary teachers and Chicago Teachers Union members, dominated the education part of the news cycle at the beginning of the Labor Day weekend, just as Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Schools Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard probably planned for. This isn't any legal for of negotiations under Illinois law, and in many ways it's unprecedented in Chicago history.

CPS Chief Education Officer Noemi Donoso (above left foreground) has been using her staff to encourage principals to ask for the waivers, despite the claim by CPS officials that principals were coming to CPS. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.But let's go through the facts and try to get to the key question: Did these votes really happen, and, if so, were they legal?

First there is the issue of the press release that the large CPS Office of Communications put out around noon on Friday, September 2, 2011. The exact language on the CPS website reads:

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.

An analysis of this statement and subsequent news media stories about these waivers votes bring into question the fact of what happened. In stories that came out about the votes, three schools were eventually named: Genevieve Melody Elementary, Skinner North Elementary and "STEM Magnet Academy." Melody has been a Chicago Public School for decades. Skinner North is one of the new schools created on the ruins of the Cabrini-Green public housing project (now a prairie to the south of the "Skinner North" site), and STEM really is too new to say anything about.

Clearly media stories contradict the CPS version of events that only two schools voted to extend the school day. The news outlets reporting on this story failed to point out that "STEM Magnet Academy" has not even opened to its first student ∏— nor does it have an elected Local School Council. So technically there was not a schedule to change. In a story published by Substance News, a union source is quoted STEM 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.

According to the current Contract between the Board of Education and the Chicago Teachers Union, members have the right to vote on waiving provisions of contract. The larger issue in this recent attempt at using a classic union busting (called "Favoritism and Division" in union busting manuals) technique is the Illinois Labor Relations Act (IELRA), The IELRA prohibits coercion of bargaining unit members and defines such actions as an Unfair Labor Practice. There is no disputing the facts. In all the media stories, there are statements made of demands on these schools to vote for a longer school day. It should also be noted that both Mayor Emanuel and CEO Brizard did not hold a press conference to answer the complex questions raised by the events they talked about in their press release, but instead chose to feed the story line into the news cycle with a press release that came out of CPS in time to generate TV "news" on a Friday afternoon.

In the Sun-Times story it stated that:

One teacher at Skinner, who asked not to be named, said she voted against the longer school day but said many of the staff probably felt pressured to agree to the change.[1]

Then there were clear examples of financial enticements to produce affirmative votes:

Teachers in those schools will receive a lump sum payment equal to 2 percent [2]

Teachers at Melody and Skinner will be given a pay hike, a "lump sum of two percent equal to average teachers salary," explained CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll.

When STEM Magnet Academy extends its day in the new year, it will receive $75,000. Teachers there will receive lump sum payouts of $800.[3]

….schools that implement the longer days in September will receive $150,000 in discretionary funds. [4]

But as more becomes known about the way in which CPS officials handled the build up to Friday, September 2, it's clear that a lot more was operating both in public and behind the scenes. There is further evidence of coercion in an email pressuring CPS principals to get the waivers votes to pass in their schools. The email was sent by a central office staffer at CPS named Stephen Zrike on August 28, 2011. Zrike came to Chicago last year to become a "Chief Area Officer" after a stormy but media crazed time as a principal in the Boston area. CPS still lists him in budget documents as a CAO (at a salary of $151,000 per year, although the area offices no longer exists (having been replaced with things called "Networks" by Jean-Claude Brizard (and the CAOs replaced with people now called "Chiefs of Schools"). Zrike, whatever his current title, is obviously still working at CPS. Here is what he wrote:

Dear Principals, please know that a team member from the Chief Education Office will be contacting you this morning to discuss options regarding a longer school day in CPS. Please make yourself available when you get the call. This is a high priority – and I appreciate your cooperation.



Digging deeper into this attempt to divide the union it may be that not only is coercion of bargaining unit members illegal under the IELRA but the fact that CPS is trying to go outside of the normal process of bargaining with the employee representative in good faith over issues.

The language in the IELRA clearly defines a labor organization as the exclusive representative on certain issues. The intent of the waiver provision in the CTU contract is to help schools adjust contract articles to meet the needs to particular school communities. There is a clear delineation under state law that there is only one representative that could bargain over wages since it affects all bargaining unit members. What is obvious from the various media reports is that CPS is trying to negotiate wages with individual work units rather than the exclusive representative, the Chicago Teachers Union.

In addition to the IELRA, Article One of the Chicago Teachers Union contract, which has been in the contract for 43 years, makes it clear that the Chicago Teachers Union is the exclusive bargaining agent for the city's teachers and that the Board of Education has to bargain with the union if it wants to discuss matters of pay, benefits, and working conditions with individual teachers.


(115 ILCS 5/) Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act

“Teachers At Skinner North And Melody Showed 'Courage' In Voting For Longer School Day, Chicago's Mayor Proclaims” Substance™ News

[1] "Three CPS Schools Break from Union, OK Longer School Day" Chicago Sun-Times.

[2] "As Schools Break Ranks, Union Looks for Answers” Chicago News Cooperative.

[3] "Three Schools Agree to Longer Days" NBC Chicago.

[4] "Longer School Day: Teachers at 3 Schools Act Early to Approve Longer Day" Chicago Tribune.


September 4, 2011 at 8:48 AM

By: Kimberly Bowsky

Legality of Waiver Votes

Thanks for clearing this up. Ball's in the workers' court, most likely legally AND morally.

September 4, 2011 at 5:42 PM

By: John Kugler

Continuation of Chicago Corruption

It is now apparent that the reform promised by rahmbo is that he will do anything even break the law to get what he wants. Even Mayor Daley was not so stupid and blatant. Daley bribed and corrupted people behind the scenes when he wanted it his way. This new guy does it on the evening news, using his buddy who was thrown out of Rochester by the teachers union while he was being investigated by the Federal government in two sexual harassment cases.

September 4, 2011 at 9:33 PM

By: Pat Simmons

Waivers at Skinner, Melody and Stem

This is clearly Emanuel and Brizard's attempt to break the union. Let us all remember these actions come election time. What happened to the Democrats fighting for the middle class? Maybe CTU members should let the President of the United States know tnat his boy Emanuel is going to cause him shame when he can't even carry Chicago's working families in 2012. Emanuel wants teachers to give an extra 90 minutes for free. Tnis will be the new trend — work for nothing. Aren't there laws about slavery? I wonder if Emanuel ever performed a professional service for no compensation? Well the answer is no. He is an obnoxious swindler who will continue to line the pockets of his frienda and contributors by taking the money out of the pockets of working families.

September 5, 2011 at 10:59 AM

By: Rod Estvan

Legal war and PR war

Before I put too much energy into this comment I think that it should be noted that Substance has removed several comments from readers that were in no way derogatory. One was a post by Dr. Krugler quoting an FOP member who noted that with the three wavier votes the CTU was in danger of being divided and eventually broken. Another was from a citywide staff member of one of the schools who asked what the teachers at these schools were thinking, and yet another was from me who stated what I believe to be the reason the teachers voted the way they did. I am baffled by these removals.

The CTU may have a fine legal argument to make relating to the wavier votes and may possibly even get them over turned which will be a PR disaster ultimately. Teachers are badly losing the PR war and Substance on an editorial level would be foolish not to realize this reality. There is probably little doubt that the PR cards are stacked against the union since most media outlets are less than labor friendly.

The union is attempting to hold on to the shreds of the existing contract, which is legally sound advise, but the way they are going about the issue is simply not working. CPS is fighting a war of movement against the CTU and the CTU is responding with trench warfare.

The CTU should put the CPS offer of a 2% raise effective in January for elementary school teachers for 90 minutes more work a day and an extension of the school year before its full membership for a vote. Let the public see the opinion of teachers on this issue. If the CTU leadership is afraid of its own membership the ship is sunk.

I expect that the members would reject this offer as it is simply put a very bad deal. But it is possible a good number will vote to take what they can get and that would not look good. If that is reality, then that is reality.

Rod Estvan

September 5, 2011 at 11:55 AM

By: Bob Busch


Military Science 101

Anyone who took that class studied the concept of “Fire and Movement." Basically it means maneuvering your opponent out of position then going in for the Kill.

The board is fully engaged in this concept, and like Ron says they are winning. What I can’t understand is why go through all that fuss when SB7 is just as effective a surrender document as anything I have ever read.

The board has won what else do they want? They want to crush our spirit, to destroy our will to resist the horror that’s occurring on the South and West sides of Chicago. As a 41 year retired veteran of the South Side, I can tell you that the scores will get better for those who stay. But hundreds, maybe thousands will not even bother going to school.

We should shock the hell out of the city and assume the high ground by disbanding the Chicago Teachers Union right now. Since it will be effectively neutered in nine months any how this would be symbolic the propaganda value of such an act would be incredible. We would immediately become the moral compass and out maneuver everyone else.

September 5, 2011 at 1:17 PM

By: Anna Gleason

Zrike is the 'CAO' or whatever...

Zrike is the Pilsen/Little Village Network "CAO" or whatever they are called now.

September 5, 2011 at 1:50 PM

By: George N. Schmidt

Fresh from Boston, Zrike is now a Chicago

Thanks for the clarification. We weren't sure that a guy who a year ago was the heralded and mediagenic "turnaround" savior of a Boston public school would automatically become a "Chief of Schools" here in Chicago, since we thought that the Brizard team had to hold Illinois Type 75 administrative certificates and know more about Chicago's schools than Brizard has gotten cramming at Wikipedia.

Turnarounds become more miraculous by the day. Turnaround Central (AUSL, Chicago) produced Tim Cawley, who now knows everything about the CPS budget as "Chief Administrative Officer" of CPS, and now Stephen Zrike knows everything about the educational complexities of Pilsen, Little Village and beyond as part of Rahm Emanuel's Miracle Management Team.

Zrike was supposed to be the Miracle Management guy to turn around Southie's Blackstone Middle Schools, which has "failed" the infamous MCAS (the Massachusetts standardized test that's used to punish the teachers of poor kids), but in less than a year he departed for Chicago, but not before filling the media with self-serving promises. Sound familiar?

Here is something from the website of the Southie newspaper:

"Fresh face will take over at the Blackstone School July 1 [2010].

"Because of serially low MCAS scores, the South End’s William Blackstone Elementary was named as one of 14 "turnaround" schools in the Boston Public Schools (BPS) system last winter. It received a "fresh start" designation in March, an option put forth in November by Superintendent Dr. Carol Johnson. As part of that scenario, half of the school’s staff and its principal of 12 years, Mildred Ruiz-Allen, will be replaced.

"Taking over July 1 will be the soon-to-be 34-year-old Stephen Zrike, who says that outreach from the community and Ruiz-Allen has been exceptional thus far."

By July 1, 2011, less than a year after his arrival as the turnaround savior of Blackstone, 1,000 miles east of Pilsen, Zrike was here in Chicago. Looks like his job is to save all the "failing" schools of Pilsen (and beyond) during the Realm of Rahm under the Blessings of Brizard.

By the way, does Zrike speak Spanish?

September 5, 2011 at 3:05 PM

By: John Kugler

Zrike => Professional Carpetbagger

Professional Carpetbagger

Looks like the continuation of opportunists filling the ranks of 125 S. Clark street who come in destroy schools and then sell them off to the lowest bidding charter operations(or those that donate to mayoral campaigns). This guy has a history of lying and walking away from his promised objectives, just like his boss brizard and emanuel.


An untimely turn in a school turnaround

January 06, 2011|James Vaznis, Globe Staff

Vowing to put a fresh face at the front of nearly every classroom, the newly appointed principal of an underperforming Boston school broomed out dozens of teachers last spring and swept in talented colleagues from places he formerly worked.

To win over parents, he dispatched teachers on home visits over the summer, hosted back-to-school events, and sent students home with letters promoting the efforts to overhaul the South End’s Blackstone Elementary School.

By the time fall rolled around, Stephen Zrike appeared to be on the verge of orchestrating an elusive feat in urban education: turning a school of persistent failure into an academic success.

But then last month, Zrike, a 34-year-old rising star of the Boston public school system, abruptly walked away. He accepted a more prestigious position in Chicago’s public school system, leaving Blackstone in the lurch and Superintendent Carol R. Johnson scrambling to find a temporary replacement.

Across the country, urban school districts have been hiring “hero principals,’’ charismatic leaders with the innate ability to quickly execute fundamental changes to a school’s operations and culture and to rejuvenate underperforming schools. But Zrike’s untimely exit is raising questions about what happens to an underperforming school when its hero principal leaves: Will it be able to sustain momentum, or will it slide backward?

“It’s critical to have stable leadership in the first couple of years of a turnaround,’’ said Justin Cohen, president of the School Turnaround Group at Mass Insight Education, a Boston-based nonprofit whose stated mission is to transform public schools into high-performance organizations and close achievement gaps.

Boston school officials said Blackstone should be able to weather Zrike’s departure because he delegated several key tasks from the start. Teachers and midlevel administrators oversee such critical areas as instruction, student attendance, and discipline.

Nevertheless, Frank Barnes, the school district’s chief accountability officer, predicted a tough road ahead.

“Anytime you lose a valuable member of the team there is an impact, but we will move onward and upward,’’ Barnes said. “I really don’t think we will skip a beat. It won’t be easy. It will take work.’’

Zrike is one of two newly appointed principals of underperforming schools who made a quick exit. Robert Martin left the Harbor Middle School in November amid circumstances the school district has yet to reveal and is on administrative leave. While Johnson has appointed an interim principal for Harbor, she has not done so yet for Blackstone.

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