Former union officials announce birth of 'Coalition To Save Our Union' and declare candidacy against Karen Lewis, CORE in May 17 Chicago Teachers Union election

Two former officials of the Chicago Teachers Union, Tanya Saunders-Wolffe and Mark Ochoa held a press conference on February 19, 2013, at the union's Merchandise Mart headquarters. The press conference was to announce their candidacy for the top leadership positions in the Chicago Teachers Union in the upcoming May 17 union election. Saunder-Wolffe announced that she is running for union president and Ochoa for union vice-president. Both are former union officials. Saunders-Wolffe was a field representative during the final months of the administration of former union president Marilyn Stewart and Ochoa was financial secretary.

Former CTU financial secretary Mark Ochoa (left) and Tanya Saunders - Wolffe (second from left) held a press conference outside the offices of the Chicago Teachers Union on February 19, 2013 to announce they are forming a new entity to challenge the current union leadership in the upcoming (May 17) union election. Aligning themselves with Ochoa and Wolffe were some of the former members of a group that once ran against the Ochoa - Wolffe group, Mary Ellen Sanchez (lower right) and Kelly McFarlane (upper right). Both McFarlane and Sanchez once were with former union president Deborah Lynch's PACT caucus. Substance photo. Their announcement, which was not distributed to all media but only selectively (Substance is still waiting to her from them officially), did not mention whether their former caucus, the "United Progressive Caucus," would remain in existence. But the indication is that the UPC, which ran the union for most of the last quarter of the 20th Century and the early years of the 21st, is no longer. The reason is that members of another caucus, former union president Deborah Lynch's PACT, have joined with the UPC people.

Their group, calling itself the "Coalition to Save Our Union", apparently constitutes a new union "caucus" combining the remnants of two former leadership slates, the United Progressive Caucus and the Pro Active Chicago Teachers caucuses.

The union election is not until May 17. February 19 was the first date that prospective candidates could pick up nominating petitions at the union's offices. Union officials confirmed that the Ochoa - Saunders - Wolffe group has picked up nominating petitions. The union's rules require that candidates for office receive nominating signatures from at least five percent of the members eligible to vote for that office. There are currently nearly 27,000 active duty union members eligible to vote for the top citywide offices, so the petitions for those offices must receive at least 1,350 signatures. The election campaigns cannot realistically begin until the nominating petitions are submitted and candidates' eligibility verified, which will take place at the April meeting of the union's House of Delegates.

Saunders-Wolffe and Ochoa and their supporters announced that they are running against incumbent President Karen Lewis and the CORE (Caucus Of Rank and file Educators) slate. CORE announced its slate at a general meeting on January 28 after a lengthy slating process that saw Lewis and the union's other three officers re-nominated to lead the union and a long list of union activists nominated to become members of the union's executive board. CORE also picked up nominating petitions on February 19, but did not hold any media events.

Accompanied by supporters wearing small signs declaring themselves the "Coalition To Save Our Union," Saunders-Wolffe and Ochoa were joined by two others, Kelly McFarlane and Mary Ellen Sanchez, who are running for the offices of recording secretary and financial secretary of the union. The union has four officers and also elects an executive board of more than 40 members and a delegation to state and national union conventions of 150 union members.

"We're still facing closings, firings and givebacks — there were things in the (old) contract that we lost," Saunders-Wolffe told reporters who attended the event. Saunders-Wolffe and her supporters claimed that the union lost the September 2012 strike by not winning more, including a ban on school closings, which the union has been organizing against for more than two months.

Saunders-Wolffe is currently a counselor at Jesse Owens Elementary School. Mark Ochoa did not tell the press where he works today, but joined Saunder-Wolffe in noting that his school is also on the "closing list" of 129 schools released on February 13 by CPS CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett.

According to a number of press reports, Saunders-Wolffe said the union should have pressed for a moratorium on school closings when it had thousands of members on the street during the strike. The union announced its position calling for a moratorium on the closings after CPS officials moved to extend the deadline for releasing the list of schools to be closed following the end of the picket lines that had characterized the strike, on September 19, 2012. A proposed contract negotiated by Karen Lewis and the union's officers was approved by the union's membership by an overwhelming vote during the first week of October 2012.

The "coalition" that held the media event on February 19 is made up of members of former CTU President Marilyn Stewart's United Progressive Caucus; the Pro Active Chicago Teachers Caucus, whose leaders ran CTU until 2004; and "independent union members", according to its press statements.

Members of the "coalition" slate told reporters that many teachers and other union members weren't in favor of the contract negotiated by the Lewis team during the seven-day strike in September, but only voted for it to get back to the classroom. Saunders-Wolffe and Ochoa at the time were part of the union's negotiating team, the so-called "big bargaining team" assembled by Karen Lewis and the union's officers for the first time in union history. The "big bargaining team" was present for most of the key negotiations during the summer and strike so that the union's four officers and attorneys had access to the direct rank-and-file experience of the members. The "big bargaining team" was assembled with Lewis and the union's officers on the night of September 9, 2012, when Lewis announced that negotiations had failed to reach a contract and that the first CTU strike in 25 years would begin at midnight that night.

The CORE leadership was elected in June 2010 following a victory in a runoff election against Marilyn Stewart's United Progressive Caucus. The June 2010 voting took place after a five-way race failed to result in a clear victory for most elected officials in a May voting. CORE had previously been organizing for several years against the school closings and other radical changes in the schools (including "turnarounds") and organizing during the years former Mayor Richard M. Daley was pursuing "Renaissance 2010."

CORE's 2010 platform opposed the privatization of public schools and the aggressive education reform efforts pushed by former CPS chief Arne Duncan, who is now the U.S. secretary of education.

Contrary to some press reports, the victory of CORE in the June 2010 runoff was decisive. When the votes were finally counted, Lewis and her fellow officers had won more than 60 percent of the votes. [Full disclosure. This reporter was the CORE election observer during both the first vote in May 2010 and in the runoff in June 2010 and serves as an active member of CORE].


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