Teachers union president talks tough... Showdown or sham?

There was no lack of militancy at Chicago’s Plumbers Union Hall on August 8. Beginning at 3:00 that afternoon, the Chicago Teachers Union held an “informational” meeting of its 800-member House of Delegates to report on the contract negotiations for the union’s 32,000 members. Chaired by newly re-elected CTU President Marilyn Stewart, the meeting was half pep rally and half report on negotiations. Throughout the one-hour presentation and discussion, Stewart was clearly angry. Flanked by the union's four other officers and one staff member, Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart (at microphone, above) told the press after a militant meeting of the union's House of Delegates on August 8, 2007, that the CTU was willing to strike if the Board of Education did not meet the union's demands at the bargaining table. She did not reveal what those demands were, either to the press or to the delegates earlier. Above: Left to right: CTU field rep Ted Hajiharis, Vice President Ted Dallas, President Marilyn Stewart, Recording Secretary Mary McGuire, Treasurer Linda Porter, Field Rep June Davis, and Financial Secretary Mark Ochoa. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.

The day before, to the surprise of virtually all of the union’s members (and even many of the union’s staff), Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley had held a press conference at City Hall to announce that the Chicago Board of Education had reached contract settlements with unions representing 10,000 of the roughly 42,000 unionized workers in the nation’s third largest school district.

Officers of the Operating Engineers, Service Employees, Teamsters, Hotel and Restaurant Workers, and Firemen and Oilers unions had stood flanking the mayor while he made the announcement on August 7, 2007.

The City Hall announcement didn’t even continue the pretext that the school system’s negotiations were being handled by the staff of Chicago schools “Chief Executive Officer” (CEO) Arne Duncan. The Mayor’s chief labor negotiator (who has been paid more than $3 million by the school board since Duncan’s term of office began in 2001) was the one who knew what was going on with the union’s — not Duncan or his staffs.

By August 8 when the House of Delegates met, the teachers were clearly angry. Throughout the one-hour meeting in the large Plumbers Hall auditorium, Stewart talked tough, promising the delegates (who represent every school and workplace in the union) that she would do better than the three percent raises the mayor had announced the other unions had gotten. Stewart also renewed her promise to the union’s members that she would restore seniority protections for teachers and other union members and improve medical and other health benefits. Many of her promises were the same ones that had swept her back into office when she decisively defeated former union president Deborah Lynch with more than 70 percent of the vote in the union’s May 18, 2007, elections.

Not only did Stewart talk tough to the union’s delegates, but she repeated the same tough talk at a press conference immediately following the Delegates meeting. During the union meeting on August 8, 2007, Marilyn Stewart (above, gesturing, while union officers and staff look on), told the 800-member House of Delegates that she would not settle for a contract that was similar to the one brought to the union's 32,000 members by her predecessor, Deborah Lynch. On May 18, 2007, Stewart had defeated Lynch, her only opponent, and won a second term as President of the Chicago Teachers Union. By August 8, Stewart was talking a militant line, but some teachers were skeptical about whether she was ready to lead a strike against the Daley administration. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.

A few basic financial facts and some analysis, before everyone continues in what often amounts to a dream state.

1. CPS REVENUES ARE INCREASING SIGNIFICANTLY THIS YEAR. The CPS budget revenues for FY 2008 (July 1, 2007 - June 30, 2008) are between five percent and ten percent greater than the revenues for FY 2007, depending upon whether you just include the nearly $5 billion “operating” budget (in which case the increase is over five percent) or the complete (operations and capital) budget (in which case the increase is nearly ten percent). No one from CPS denied these facts during last week’s budget hearings (Lane Tech Tuesday; Juarez Wednesday; Morgan Park Thursday). And those increases in revenues are based on the lowest possible estimate of increased Illinois revenues.

2. A ONE PERCENT RAISE COSTS NO MORE THAN $25 MILLION. Both CPS budget people and Arne Duncan have stated on the record at public meetings that a one percent increase in pay will cost CPS $25 million. (Arne said $22 million in June, but revised that upwards by August; also it’s not clear whether this only includes unionized workers or all workers, including Arne).

3. AN EXTRA 45 MINUTES PER DAY IS AN EXTRA TEN PERCENT AND SHOULD GO TO THE BASE PAY SCALE, NOT BE COUNTED AS A ‘RAISE’. To simplify the math (and since the mayor has been talking about it so much), assume that CPS is asking for an increase in the workday of 45 minutes. Given that the high school workday is presently 406 minutes, that’s an increase of ten percent. Therefore, the increase should include an extra ten percent, built into the base salary. This is not a “raise” but simply the “bottom line” to begin working from.

4. CPS BUDGETS ARE SO PACKED WITH SO MANY LIES THAT IF THIS WERE THE PRIVATE SECTOR SOMEONE WOULD BE INDICTED FOR THEM. Whenever anyone here prattles on about the “private sector,” I know they haven’t been trying to read, let alone get to balance, the most recent CPS budgets. If Arne Duncan and his budget team were facing the same requirements the FTC has placed on private, publicly traded corporations (Sarbanes Oxley and the implementation of it), they’d all have been indicted by now. The two most recent budgets (FY 2007 and FY 2008, the one proposed for voting by the Board Wednesday) with those CD obfuscations are the worst in history, but the previous Duncan budgets were all pretty bad, when viewed year to year.

4. READ THE BUDGET THEY ARE GOING TO VOTE ON NEXT WEEK, WHICH IS IN EVERY SCHOOL AND PUBLIC LIBRARY. Ask the simplest questions from page to page and look at what happens. “How much is each charter school going to get next year?” is just one of a hundred questions that could be answered more clearly, but instead is obfuscated (again) deliberately and for political reasons. Many of the major spreadsheets don’t balance, one to the other. There are huge (hundreds of millions of dollars) expenses lumped into huge general lines. The general lines then allow massive spending on patronage and clout (“contractual services,” for example) with literally no oversight. Then, anyone who tries to actually double-check the spending (e.g., by going to the public records provided by “Purchasing”) faces this almost cynical collection of vague or deceptive lists, thousands of lines long, based on no apparent organizing principle except to make it difficult or impossible for the public (or auditors) to figure out anything. When was the last time you told your students that a taxonomy or listing of anything could be based on First Names?! The People Soft debacle (a result of cheapskate outsourcing and patronage in the sub-contracts) is just the most obvious mess that all this has cost. But there are dozens of other major ones, and hundreds of “little” ones (only amounting to tens of thousands of dollars). 5. POLITICAL MANIPULATION AND MEDIA LAPDOGGING ALLOWED LAST YEAR’S SPECIAL EDUCATION (AND OTHER) CUTS. These budgets are political documents, glossed with some minor accounting procedures. The political manipulations of the budgets is so extreme that after all the draconian cuts last year in special education, CPS has now admitted that none of those cuts was necessary. Despite the fact that Arne cried “Wolf!” from January 2006 through November 2006 claiming a “deficit”, it was not true. CPS didn’t have to draw down their Reserves at all last year, resulting in Reserves now (how many different places, no one knows, including probably Arne) that are significantly above $300 million.

That’s right.

All the suffering last year, preceded by those drumbeats about “deficits”, was unnecessary — at least from a financial point of view.

6. THE OTHER UNIONS WERE THE SUCKERS VOTING FOR THAT ‘THREE PERCENT’ RAISE. The five (or six) unions that allegedly agreed to that “three percent” raise were the suckers, because none of them bothered to analyze the budgets CPS has been using. Whether they were frightened into settling by the threat of (further, in most cases) privatization, or they were just selling out their members is beside the point. The money is there for CPS to comfortably offer a raise of five, six or seven percent to all unionized workers on a two or three-year contract (beyond that term, it’s impossible to be reasonable about the economy). If CPS (and Mayor Daley) want CPS teachers to work an additional ten percent, that has to be built into the base, not called a “raise” when in fact it’s only adding to the length of the workday.

7. THE BOND RATING AGENCIES ARE IN TROUBLE, SO CPS WILL NOT GET AWAY WITH AS MUCH VAGUENESS IN THE FUTURE. After the debacle of the bond ratings on the financial thingies that Wall Street put together out of the mortgage practices of the past five or six years, the three bond rating agencies — Moody’s, Standard and Poors, and Fitch — are facing major questions about the integrity of their rating practices. Investors have already lost hundreds of billions of dollars on thingies that were rated AAA. As a result, it’s likely that none of the three will try to get away with those “Whatever Arne says looks good to us” versions of due diligence regarding the CPS budget in the near future — if they are pressed by anyone, including the most raw apprentice reporter.

8. EVEN THE CPS AUDITORS ARE WARNING THAT ARNE DUNCAN’S BOOKS ARE IN A MESS. And when you get to that point, with nearly 50 pages in extra documentation from one Comprehensive Annual Financial Report to the next, you know something is very wrong. CPS has been through at least three auditors since Arthur Andersen went out of business during the last economic bubble meltdown, and even the most careful local outfit is now unwilling to give Arne a pass, so the audit is full of cover your ass language from the auditor.

Of course, none of this is going to ever be investigated by the CPS Inspector General, who will be kept busy harassing teachers and principals for minor league venial sins while the to dogs are swirling into a circle of corruption Hell that would make Dante shudder. 


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