Chicago Teachers Union leadership conference draws more than 600 people

The Chicago Teachers Union hosted a conference on March 10, 2012 at Crane High School for school leaders, including union delegates, LSC members, and union members active in the schools' contract committees. According to organizers, more than 600 people were in attendance.

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey (above) gave the keynote at the March 10 CTU leadership conference. Substance photo by Kati Gilson.Jesse Sharkey, CTU Vice-President opened the conference with history, encouragement and tough talk regarding the current state of Chicago Public Schools due to political, ideological and economical sabotage. The attacks on public education are financed by billionaire cronies of Rham Emmanuel and groups like Stand for Children, Sharkey said. One of the biggest backers of busting public education is billionaire Bill Gates. Jesse stated “things are going to get rough for a minute. People are the most important for fighting the resistance of this attack (on public education).”

CTU’s history of fight backs won its members basic rights including health insurance, job security, professionalism, and bargaining rights for PSRPs. All rights were won through struggle. But today, in 2012, CPS is trying to pin evaluations and jobs on standardized test scores. A seven hour and forty minute long school day adds an hour of teaching time while, CPS wants to take away preparation time, professional development and accumulated sick days. Personnel fortunate enough not to have to use their sick days are rewarded with a bonus at retirement, but many teachers have used their days for maternity leave, illness and surgical recovery. CPS, who penalizes teachers who use their sick days for legitimate reason by lowering their ratings, now wants to penalize those who don’t use them by taking them away.

CTU’s fight back is fueled by a combination of anger and frustration of teachers, parents and students who know the Board of Education is against them. Jesse stated “Without a union, we wouldn’t have a decent standard of living for educators in this city," Sharkey said. "We have a responsibility to our co-workers and the children of the city of Chicago to lead, to organize to get somewhere, to be effective and unite against banks and politicians."

Paul O’Dell, a former CTU Field Representative and Union Delegate stated, “One of the things you need is a dynamic leadership. We have it now”. He went on to state “You must have a cause” and quoted Jackie Vaughn “No one can kick you in the butt unless you bend over”.

He went on to say the people in the room have a responsibility to convince the members in their schools the cause is just. Young teachers think their employer (CPS) gave us all these benefits. Not true, they were won through hard work, solidarity and strikes. “You are not trusted as professional,” he stated. “They will take these things back if you bend over.”

Deb Lawson from North Chicago talked about how their strike united elementary and high school teachers. Each group had been told the other was to blame. She said “You all have strength. Your members don’t understand about the power you have”. She described how during their strike, the Strike Captains every night called each one of their people to talk and listen and keep them picketing. “Whatever your comfort level is do it," she advised. She also described their picket line conversations. “When we were on the picket line we did not say a whole lot. We didn’t want our message to get misconstrued but every day at a certain time we’d hear from the officials how it was going."

Although they were on strike from October through December, the superintendant never once came. She was always away. “We were victorious” Deb stated. “We didn’t lose dollars or days, but our spring and XMAS breaks were shortened. We didn’t lose anything. We gained the respect of the district and the board got rid of the superintendant.”

She went on to tell the crowd “I believe in you. I believe in your membership. It will work. You can do it.”

A Crane High School worker from Crane said “Where there is unity there is strength. If we stick together we can become partners in unity. Don’t cross the picket line. Let’s do this together”.

Mr. O’Dell described a bumper sticker on his son-in-laws car “Friends don’t let friends scab”. “You need a scab cause everyone is enraged. They say not nice things to a scab.” He went on to say that one of the marks of a leader is to get people to do something they don’t want to do. He told the crowd “It’s up to you to get them to do what they don’t want to do”.

Among the papers in the information packet provided to each participant was Contract Bulletin #8 outlining the boards’ latest offer. They want a five-year contract with a 2 percent raise and increase the work day by 64 minutes, take away morning preparation and decrease professional development days. CPS hasn’t even considered the affect on PSRPs or resources necessary to implement this plan. More than 100 schools have been closed in Chicago. CTU wants job security for veteran teachers and accountability for CPS. CPS refuses to hire tenured teachers over new teachers and 160 schools are without libraries and librarians.

A video clip, once again without sound, was shown with support statements coming from SEIU – who represents security, the Operating Engineers, Custodial, Classroom Assistants, Lunchroom and IFT labor leaders. Solidarity was pledged from as far away as Tacoma, Washington. Participants then broke out into small sessions of the workshop “Getting Organized in our Schools”.

Participants were pleased to hear that CTU is aggressively pursuing legislation in Springfield resulting in every single bill submitted has received a sponsor. On March 20, Karen Lewis will attend training for parents, teachers and community members on the West Side. The west and south sides have united with more than 500 participants attending the MLK Day rallies. Also it was reported that the news media including ABC and the Tribune are beginning to give good coverage to the cause including the “Rent-a –protester” scam. These successes are a direct result of parents and rank and file members confronting, exposing and reporting back on these atrocities. Also, CTU president Karen Lewis was on National TV three consecutive days on the Ed Show and Rev. Jesse Jackson went to his first board of education meeting this year. He also had Karen on his show two weeks ago to discuss the attacks on public education and the effects on students and communities of closing schools. Six hundred people marched peacefully in Rham’s neighborhood to protest the attack on public education.

Brandon, a CTU organizer stated “G8 pulled out cause of the work we are doing in our neighborhoods”. He also said “The work we’ve done this far, we had a meeting (today) at a school you’ve taken from us.” Crane is a beautiful old building with marble stairs, outstanding craftsman ship, and tall stately ceilings.

A reoccurring question from CTU members is why CTU isn’t fighting in the medial. The bottom line is that the media are owned and funded by the billionaires. CTU does not have that kind of money but what they do have is people, large numbers of them which continue to grow through parent student and community support.

Michael Brunson stated “We are the third largest (union) in numbers in our country. Ambassadors four public education are going after teacher unions cause they are the largest unions in the country.” He also went on to say the largest employer in the US, after the government, is Wal-Mart the number one force behind union busting. Michael talked about the importance of “decent benefits, adequate pay and a dignified retirement” for all employees.

“2012 will go down in history. Stand up and fight!” He discussed the importance of speaking to parents, politicians, respond to open editorials in the press. He stressed the importance of getting the truth out to the public. People don’t know that educators don’t get social security or disability. He ended with “Tell the truth, talk to parents, the community and politicians”. A Cabrini Green teacher stated “I despise what this administration is doing to or kids. We are overworked, bullied, we get written up for talking to other teachers”. She tells parents “I cannot advocate for your child without collective bargaining rights”. Another participant described an outspoken teacher in their school, who was suddenly visited by the AIO team and is now afraid to say a word in fear of losing their job. Stories like this were more common than not among the participants in the workshops.

A suggestion was made to start writing to President Obama. “He can’t run a campaign with a strike in his home state” one member stated. “It would be a national disgrace”.

Strategies and ideas were discussed among participants in the delegates training workshops for organizing schools and combating fear and administrative bullying. Brandon stated “Rahm Emmanuel is embarrassed by G8 (removal). I believe in my kids more than I believe in President Obama”.

Everyone was encouraged to contact Senator Kimberly Lightford, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and other state officials regarding the school moratorium bill SB 3239 (on school closings) which is now in committee.

A round table discussion, monitored by CTU organizer Norine Gutenkast, was held with CTU President Karen Lewis and community leaders Wendy Katten, Director, Raise your Hand Coalition: Reverend Alvin Love, Pastor, Lilydale First Baptist Church; Reverend C.J. Hawking, Arise Chicago, and two VOYCE student representatives, Sara and Victor. Sara and Victor attend Roosevelt High School.

President Lewis discussed a survey which indicates “The vilification nationwide of teachers and paraprofessionals” shows “most teachers don’t feel supported, respected or dignified”. “Everywhere we go we must be advocates for public education”.

CTU has put out a document titled “The Schools Chicago’s Children Deserve” which outlines what needs to happen for Chicago’s children to have a quality education. The executive summary contains talking points that can be shared with parents and community. CTU has proven that CPS had a budget surplus in 2011 thus their reason for denying employees their contractually agreed upon raise was unfounded.

The panel discussed the importance of reaching out across the divide of students, parents, teachers and communities to have conversations, some of which may be difficult by necessary and to stick with the conversations to work out issues. There are overlapping issues and by strengthening alliances all parties can work together for the benefit of all. Wendy talked about the important of strong parent alliances with teachers and stated “Parents really love their individual teachers. Parents based their felling on individual teachers and what they see in their classrooms. Parents appreciate and support their teachers”. Raise your Hands is willing to help organize parents and work together to keep the lines of communication between educators and parents open.

Victor discussed the importance of teachers and students supporting each other by attending each others’ actions and rallies. Sara talked about getting students more involved in school discussions. She explained “We have 7 houses in our school. Which one should we not have any more? I believe students should have a say. Get our opinion on things. Increase conversations between students and staff.”

Rev. Hawing, Arise Chicago is helping get the truth about teaching out in the pulpit. Teachers are given the opportunity to share their passion for teaching and why they want to build better schools”. “Let’s make this the educator’s spring” she said.

Rev. Love said “In the community, what the teachers are going through is unknown. We only hear what’s on the news. My church is right across from a high school. I didn’t know they weren’t using up to date books”. He talked about having monthly parent / teacher / community meetings in neighborhoods. ”When the community understand the educators are trying to do their best they will bend over backward to help you get resources. What you are doing is for our children and will make our communities better.”

Victor stated “I learned problems between teachers and students were because how they were portrayed. Let people know there is no tension between us. Let everyone know that. Support each others’ actions.” Sara said “I learned teachers and students share a common theme. You teach we learn.”

An ongoing conversation was the importance of increasing people involvement in communities through meetings, talking to strangers, with families within our own and other communities. The Union is going to schools to get the CTU goals out there. The need to increase dialogue between educators, parents and community members is a priority.

The longer school day continues to be a hot topic with increasing opposition from parents and students. Parents and students are resentful that Chiefs of Schools (the current heads of the "networks") did not talk to anyone; they had a pre-determined agenda with planning or resources.

They plan to step up marches and rallies “They have to listen to stakeholders. This movement is growing” stated Wendy. A forum will be held on March 22 at 7 pm at the First Unitarian Church at 56th and Woodlawn. “Every parent and child cares about the school day. Extending the school day does not solve problems”.

The afternoon break workshops included new delegates orientation, research and media, outreach and advocacy, defending and activating PSRPs and Clinicians, understanding the CPS budget and how retirees can get involved.

Throughout the day contacts were made, relationships formed, issues discussed and shared, encouragement provided and new ideas introduced. A number of participants said they felt it was a very informative, productive, motivating day. The new delegates left with a better understanding of their responsibility and all left knowing they are the leaders in the fight for public education.


March 12, 2012 at 8:36 AM

By: Jean Schwab

Leader Training Workshop

Great article. I felt like I was attending it over again. Thanks Katie

March 12, 2012 at 9:29 AM

By: Al Korach

Going Back To Crane

I enjoyed reading the Leadership Conference article while recovering from surgery in Margate, Florida. I graduated from Crane technical High School in 1947.It would have been great to return to Crane after about 75 yrs. as a retiree delegate. As a veteran school delegate in every past CTU strike, I learned some important lessons. The real work of a school delegate occurs well before the strike starts. Preparation is the key word. If you start your preparation after the strike vote you have missed the boat. At past strike prep meetings, I found the many CTU members at my school had suddenly become self-appointed experts on "To strike of not to strike..." My goal was to always convince them that the Union is the only organization committed to looking out for their interests. It is sad to say that most of us that went through the past strikes are either retired from teaching or in that school up in the sky. The Union is the organization that helped acquire all your benefits. The Board of Education is the organization committed to taking them away.


March 15, 2012 at 4:45 AM

By: Kimberly Bowsky

Leadership conference

When the teacher from North Chicago spoke, she inspired me. Kati Gilson's article reminds us that educators locally and globally AND PREVIOUSLY have had to stand up for their rights, and it's not easy. We cannot empower students without uniting to show our power as workers and adults first!

March 15, 2012 at 11:36 PM

By: Theresa D. Daniels

The Delegates and School Leaders Workshop

I thank Katie Gilson for this article and Substance for being there to publish it. It's so important to document that such a brilliantly organized conference/workshop took place and to report what went on. This was yet another very important incremental step in the fight back that must happen in Chicago to stop the destruction of real education here and in the rest of the country by the greedy rich and powerful who have made a new for-profit market of the schools and could care less about the children.

Add your own comment (all fields are necessary)

Substance readers:

You must give your first name and last name under "Name" when you post a comment at We are not operating a blog and do not allow anonymous or pseudonymous comments. Our readers deserve to know who is commenting, just as they deserve to know the source of our news reports and analysis.

Please respect this, and also provide us with an accurate e-mail address.

Thank you,

The Editors of Substance

Your Name

Your Email

What's your comment about?

Your Comment

Please answer this to prove you're not a robot:

1 + 4 =