BOOK REVIEW: Part Two...A Look Back at the 2012 Strike in a Recently Published Book by Steven Ashby and Robert Bruno: A Fight for the Soul of Public Education (Part 2)...
In 2011 Chicago had a new mayor, a pugnacious foul-mouthed transplant from the northern suburbs, Rahm Emmanuel. He had a reputation in Washington of being combative and he is partially to blame for the breakdown of consensus politics in Washington. The gridlock we have been seeing for the past eight years that will now extend for another four, is one of his and Obama’s legacies.
Early on in his takeover of control of the Chicago schools, he flexed his muscles-- threats of layoffs if the union did not make concessions, refusal to give CTU the 4% raise for school year 2011-12 that was in the last year of the 2007 contract and then the ‘Pioneer Schools’ of the longer school day.
As Robert Bloch the CTU lawyer said before the announcement of the Pioneer Schools “was there ‘anything more Rahm Emanuel could do to piss off teachers?’” (Ashby and Bruno, 2016, p. 137).
Emanuel was just starting in his quest to eviscerate the union’s ability to bargain for better working conditions and pay scales. Thus the stage was set for difficult negotiations as the 2007 contract was to expire June 30, 2012. The CTU used the concept of a larger bargaining team as part of the negotiations as a way to bring more into the process and show that CTU leadership was being transparent. Karen Lewis and the CORE leadership had taken over the union in July 2010, and by the final days of negotiations in 2012, the "Big Bargaining Team" (BBT) was part of the procedure.
The idea of having a larger bargaining team at the Chicago Teachers Union negotiations is one that Karen Lewis and the CTU leadership implemented as soon as they gained control of the union. This faced opposition from Chicago Public School leadership as all prior negotiation was a small CTU group consisting of the officers, certain CTU senior staff members and CTU lawyers. This group became the small ‘table team’ in the 2012 and 2015 contract negotiations. The Big Bargaining Team consisted of the CTU Executive Board and a variety of rank and file members, most of which came from the other four factions and a few independents which included me. I was the only clinician on the team and I felt the burden of speaking on behalf of 1,800 members. This was not the case for the 2015 team as I was joined by an occupational therapist, speech pathologist, school nurse and a citywide itinerant teacher, who represented a group that is not even recognized in earlier contracts!
There was training on how the process will roll out and we were given binders to put all of the documents given by both sides. The binders were not allowed to be taken away to study. This was necessary in order to stop any leaks to the press or others but it made it difficult to spend time to review on your own.
The CPS negotiation team was headed up by Jim Franczek, who has been CPS’ main lawyer for contract negotiations since 1994. There was Rachel Resnick who is an actual CPS employee but she retired early on and was replaced by Joe Moriarty. He became the Chief Labor Relations Officer. During the negotiations, Jean Claude Brizard, was never at the table although he would put out messages as if he was! Rahm had ‘his people’ there too and one of them was Beth Swanson, his Education officer of the Mayor’s Office. The use of the larger representation of union members, at first, disarmed the Board bargaining team but I noticed a gradual acceptance of it. They were able to hear ‘from the trenches’ about what is going on in the schools.
I was given a chance to explain the various contract articles that clinicians have crafted. The Clinician Steering Committee put together a number of new articles as well as making changes in the ones in the 2007 contract. One of the first things we asked was to have all of our articles placed under the larger category of “Clinician” instead of different articles for only some of the clinician groups and in Article 44- General Provisions. The irony of this is that it was the Board who agreed to that but the small table team balked at doing it!
In the end, the contract developed Article 20 with all of the articles gathered from the old contract and new ones added. Speech pathologists, occupational therapists and physical therapists were finally had language they can use for protection in their job.
I remember that I caused the Board and members of the Big Bargaining Team to gasp at my description of the type of workspace issues clinicians faced on a daily basis. I described my first assignment as a Title I social worker which meant I was ‘bought’ from the Social Work unit to work in the school full time. I was in the basement sharing the space with the school’s engineer who enjoyed listening into my phone conversations and when I was working with students.
One time I was talking in code with a parent about her having HIV, he came with his eyes wide open, saying “who got AIDS?” But the part that made everyone cringe and ultimately I was able to get strong wording put in about our workspace (Ashby and Bruno, 2016, p. 147) was my description of a leak in the area I worked. It was urine from the boy’s bathroom right above the area I worked. I had to buy a bucket and empty it as the engineer refused! He boasted that it will stay like that long after I leave (it didn’t as I got it fixed but it was after I was there for 18 months).
I did use some gallows humor at the end of this by saying that one of my group rules for students was ‘don’t kick the bucket’. This emboldened other members of the Big Bargaining Team to be more descriptive in their explanation of the articles they were bringing to the bargaining table.
To jump ahead to the negotiations of the 2015 contract, we were never given a chance to do that. There were sessions where some of the articles were discussed by members of the bargaining team with CPS negotiators but not in front of the larger group setting. Clinicians were tacked on at the end of the third session counselors had with the Board along with special education teachers. We were allowed only one representative for each group and were given less time to explain our articles!
The one thing I kept saying about the differences between the two contract negotiations was that Rahm and his Board learned from the 2012 process whereas CTU continued with the same tactics and was disarmed when the Board started to make their maneuvers. One of the most brilliant maneuvers that CTU did was to have the strike vote before the 2011-2012 school year ended. The Board cried ‘foul’ but the SB 7 language did not say CTU had to wait for all of the steps to be completed and CTU had the vote during the fact finding period. The 2015 saw the Board stall the process so that if there would be a vote to strike, it would have to occur late in the 2014-2015 school year of at the beginning of the following school year. Another tactic CPS did was to take back having CTU members pay the full pension of 7% and date of the first paycheck was April 1st. CTU planned a ‘Day of Action’ on that date but instead said it was for the broader issues of alternative funding, etc. CTU members were upset about the going ahead with the action as it would mean another furlough day after the announcement of CPS to have them take three days without pay! CTU handed the Board another day they did not have to pay to CTU members.
Another difference was the fact that all of the members of the 2012 Big Bargaining Team stayed on until the end of the contract negotiations. This last bargaining which ended in October 2016, three members were taken off the team around Labor Day, six weeks before the last push. The reason was given that we had retired but two of us had retired a year before but still remained on the team during the school year 2015-2016. I know there was concern that I was taken off as I was a very strong voice for clinicians. I heard from a number of fellow Big Bargaining Team members that my absence hurt the clinician cause and they were disappointed that after two years of being on the team, I was not allowed to see it to the end. I want to end this with a quote from Jim Franczek on his assessment of the 2012 contract; “It was the shittiest contract that CTU ever negotiated’ (Ashby and Bruno, 2016, p. 227). It would be interesting what he would think of the latest contract which for many CTU members believe is even crappier!