Five-year deal narrowly approved September 10... Tumultuous battles over Chicago teachers' contract

(CHICAGO). On September 15, 2007, the Chicago Teachers Union finally announced the official vote count in the citywide referendum on the five-year contract the union’s negotiating team had agreed to more than two weeks earlier.

According to the union’s Website (, the union’s 32,000 members had approved the agreement by a vote of 12,778 Yes to 9,557 No. According to the CTU, a total of 21,408 union members had voted in the referendum

No press conference was held on September 15 to discuss the information or answer questions. The new numbers simply appeared on the Web without explanation, replacing a set of numbers that had been posted on September 11, the day after the voting.

By September 15, the official vote in favor of the contract was 60 percent of the total vote voting “Yes.”

Four days earlier, on September 11, 2007, there had been a press conference. On September 11, according to Marilyn Stewart, president of the 32,000-member union, the vote was 11,851 Yes to 8,953 No. The total in the September 11 announcement had been 20,804, but the union said that a large number of “supplemental ballots” had not been counted as of the 11:00 a.m. press conference, and no one asked why the union leadership didn’t wait until all the votes had been fully counted or accounted for.

On September 11, the CTU told reporters that the vote count wouldn’t be changed by the final count of the “supplemental ballots.” On September 11, CTU said that there were 1,975 supplemental ballots still the be counted. But when the “final” count was announced four days later, only 504 of those 1,975 votes were included. More than 1,400 votes had disappeared without explanation.The actual voting had been done in most Chicago public schools on September 10, 2007.

At the time of the September 11 announcement, the official vote in favor of the contract had been 57 percent. By the time of the official official tally, the percentage who has purportedly voted “Yes” had risen to just over 60 percent.

Since there was no press conference on September 15, no one got to ask how the percentage in favor of the contract had increased so much during the four days the count had supposedly continued.

But the tumultuous debate and vote over the new CTU contract — along with a close examination of the changes Stewart had made in the CTU’s voting procedures after she took over the union in August 2004 — raised more questions than answers for many of the union’s 32,000 members. The new contract goes from July 1, 2007 through June 30, 2012 and is the longest in CTU history.

The tumult had been growing during the final weeks of August.

The Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates met three times during August 2007.

At the first meeting, on August 8, the leadership told the delegates that there might be a strike, and the meeting had the mood of a pre-strike pep rally.

At the second meeting, on August 22, the leadership told the membership that there probably wouldn’t be a strike, and the meeting was subdued because no one was providing the members with any details of what a contract may contain.

The third meeting came on August 31, 2007. Tension and frustration reached a head on August 31, the Friday night that began the Labor Day weekend, at Chicago’s Plumbers Hall.

That evening, Stewart called a meeting of the union’s House of Delegates. Despite the long holiday weekend looming ahead, the majority of the delegates showed up. The House of Delegates consists of elected representatives from all of the city’s more than 600 public schools.

At approximately 7:45 p.m. on August 31, 2007, Marilyn Stewart and the union’s four other officers had held a press conference immediately after a tumultuous meeting of the 800-member CTU House of Delegates. At that time [see related article at www.substance], Stewart told reporters that a “majority” of the delegates had approved the agreement. On August 31, she admitted under questioning by some skeptical reporters that she hadn’t actually conducted a standing vote count or roll call. A few hours after the August 31 press conference, one of Stewart’s deputies told the Chicago Sun-Times a number of the vote count that had not been done, and the Sun-Times published that number.

The September 11 media event was the second time in 12 days that the union representing the teachers in the third-largest school system in the USA had announced an incomplete vote on a major contract — with little public discussion of whether anything unusual had taken place. On August 31, Stewart convened a press conference to announce that delegates from schools across the city had approved the contract, even though a few minutes earlier she had refused to count the large number of “No” votes.

On September 11, Stewart convened a press conference to announce that a citywide membership referendum has approved the contract, even though she had failed to count all the votes from the members.

And by September 12, with questions about the contract still being asked across Chicago, the union’s leadership began preparing a lengthy explanation of everything that was supposedly in the contract that wasn’t in the 40 pages of contract materials given to delegates and members before the votes on August 31 and September 10.

On September 14, Stewart announced that not all of the uncounted votes had been counted, and that they probably wouldn’t be counted because, she said, they didn’t matter anyway. Although she said they had been counted, for reasons she wasn’t required to explain most of them had not been counted — or at least were not available in the final tally.

By September 15, an “official” count was posted on the Web without comment, although, to some eyes, several hundred “supplemental” ballots — more than 1,400 in total — had still not been counted.

The contract itself was facing similar credibility questions. Although Stewart insisted that the 40 pages of materials distributed to the delegates August 31 were the agreement she had reached with CPS negotiators, within 24 hours it was clear they weren’t. During the coming weeks, Stewart and her supporters issued dozens of e-mail, blogged, and verbal “What that really means is not what it says or what you think it means…” statements.

And on September 17, Stewart released a three-page Web clarification of parts of the contract that she had told everyone to vote for as early as August 31. The clarifications continued in the days that followed, although officially the contract had been approved and Chicago teachers had locked themselves into a deal that will end well into the second decade of the 21st Century. 


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