Members First announces leadership team for May CTU election

On Wednesday, February 20, 2019, a press conference was held to introduce the officers running on a Members First slate for the May 17, 2019 Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) leadership election. Approximately 75-100 people braved the early evening weather (low 30s, windy with rain/sleet) outside of Dawes Elementary School, 3810 W. 81st Place. A tent was set up with heat as well hot chocolate from Dunkin Donuts.

Members First officer slate: Victor Ochoa, vice president; Debbie Yaker, financial secretary; Sharon Davis, recording secretary; Therese Boyle, president.
The following are the brief speeches from the four officer candidates, in the order given. This will be followed by a few questions asked by media representatives from WBEZ and Labor Express Radio.

Sharon Davis, candidate for Recording Secretary:

She has been a physical education teacher for over 35 years. She is a proud product of CPS and comes from a family of educators. She has noticed a disconnect in CTU between the leadership and members – clinicians, teachers, PRSPs.

Debbie Yaker, candidate for Financial Secretary

She welcomed everyone in Spanish, with the rest of her remarks in English. She has been with CPS for 20 years as a teacher, currently a special education teacher. She has taught at “not so fantastic” and “little better” schools. She knows what it is like in the tough trenches. She mentioned “REACH,” CPS’s present teacher evaluation system, with a tone of distain, stating that with Members First this would need to change

Victor Ochoa, candidate for Vice President

He is currently a counselor at Shurz High School. He has been with CPS for 23 years, including four years as an art teacher; five years as a Dean of Students; and nine years as a counselor. He spoke directly to teachers, clinicians, PRSPs: You deal with a lot in CPS. You need to be better supported. The learning environment needs to be better. You need raises. You need benefits to take care of you. You should work with the kids and not worry about everything else. You should be able to trust CTU leadership to take care of you.

Therese Boyle, Candidate for President

She has been with CPS for 35 years, 28 as a school psychologist. She has been in hundreds of schools, experiencing a wide variety – some not so well-resourced as others. She comes from a family of educators “since the 1880s.” She’s the daughter of a teacher, the mother of a teacher, the sister of a teacher. “Our family’s mission is the education of the children in the city of Chicago,” she said She is married to a union member, Local 134. She said she had a lot to say, but would focus on two things. First, the CTU has fallen away from transparency in decisions, on including member voices. There needs to be checks and balances. She has a B.A. in finance, a minor in economics. For the past year and a half, she has had increasing concerns with the financial state of the CTU. The CTU needs to bring back more financial stability and more member services.

Second, regarding the next contract, with so many losses and givebacks, the CTU needs to get back/recoup that. The teachers, clinicians, PRSPs need a decent raise.

A question and answer session followed, with questions asked by WBEZ and Labor Express Radio.

Regarding “strike talk,” where do you see yourself if you walk into CTU leadership positions in May?

Therese Boyle: A strike is always a last resort. [When TB said, “5%...” the crowd booed.] Under the last two contracts, for the last eight years, with furlough days and increases in healthcare, we are treading water. We need to attract teachers to the system, to have them stay in careers.

Share comments regarding how the current leadership has failed.

Victor Ochoa: We are interested in getting back to the basics. We are used for our power, but for us there is no COLA [cost of living allowance], heath benefits offer less choice with one vendor for PPO and HMO, plus more to pharmacies. We have more stressful jobs each year, and people keep leaving. School should be a mix of young and old. The contracts have not done this for us.

Do you have a number for a pay demand?

Boyle: No, not yet.

Request for comments regarding CTU’s endorsement of Toni Preckwinkle for mayor.

Boyle: The way I look at it is – the mayoral election will be done by May 17. Whoever is in City Hall, we will conference with and negotiate for the best contract for the teachers, clinicians, and PRSPs, whoever it is.

Request for background on Members First.

Boyle: We started about 2 years ago as a “watchdog” group, looking at the finances and instability at CTU. When CTU makes cuts, this impacts members. We remain concerned with the lack of transparency. An example, making loans without asking the members. In 2018 we had $8.8 million in reserves. When we ask about it, we get, “Uh, we overspent and we’ll stop.” We are active in research. We ask questions from the floor of the House of Delegates. We now feel we need to step up and run for office.

What about members being part of previous caucuses?

Victor Ochoa: Caucuses have come and gone. That is not as important as much as putting past experience to use. Members are going to come first.

Boyle: I work with CORE caucus members, for example, on the Special Education Committee. They do good work. We are speaking of leadership, not CORE members. Our focus is on services to members in schools.

Full disclosure: This reporter will be on the Members First slate.


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