Practical solidarity in action... What does 'Union' mean?

Unionism is a new word in my vocabulary and in the vocabulary of many newer teachers in Chicago. It’s been more than 20 years since the last teachers’ strike, and a whole new generation has come into teaching since then.

In the beginning getting involved, I thought unionism was going to meetings, posting notices and enjoying banquets paid by the membership. Now as I become involved with the members as they communicate with me, I am starting to understand what solidarity is. This is the first in a series of reports exposing the non-representation of rank and file union members employed by the Chicago Public Schools.

Working Together

In the absence of union advocacy for those being displaced and terminated union members are reaching out to each other for help and support. Although most members teach full time, have families and have a variety of other obligations they are forcing themselves to make time to help their brothers and sisters in need.

There are the tenured teachers in the E3 process at Wells High School who are being told to forgo their rights under the Bargaining Agreement to due process. Numerous requests for representation are ignored. The school delegate Joshua Strand has not filed any grievances in regards to violations of procedures despite the requests of the teachers’ requests top do so. Field Representative Nate Dickson leaves messages that he is on vacation but miraculously shows up to a secret Executive Board meeting May 28, 2008 to illegally remove the Vice-president of the Chicago Teachers Union: who was charged with insubordination when he tried to help his brothers and sisters at Wells High School.

There is the security guard at Gage Park High School being terminated for doing his job. He is being told that’s all we can do for you from his local SEIU 73. Why help him? To show that summary suspensions are not tolerated by the rank and file no matter what local they are in.

There are the brothers and sisters not paid for IMPACT training, night school, extra classes and others work performed outside of their regular duties. Why help them? They have been robbed of their right to be compensated for their services. In the eyes of the union it is a payroll issue not an issue of theft of services of those that serve the students of Chicago. Calls and communications to the union are ignored, transferred and told to handle it themselves. One group of teachers from the “small schools” at Orr will not be fired this month. At the end of the 2006-2007 school year, Arne Duncan moved the “Phoenix Military Academy” from Orr to the Grant School “campus” near Adams and Western Ave. (above). Mayor Daley protected his military program from the pogram he was preparing for the rest of Orr. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.

What to do

It is essential that all communications be documented and logged. Members need to follow the procedures of complaints, grievances and appeals through the process proscribed in the varying bargaining agreements they work under. Members need to communicate and develop a network of rank and file members that have the knowledge and skills to develop a system of recourse when those that are responsible for the advocacy of the rank and file fail in their duties. The system of recourse includes many options some of which have varying degrees of remedies for the complainants.

The issue then becomes who is charge of the effort to help the rank and file. No one. It is the responsibility of the members to help each other out. Seek out those members and unionists that are knowledgeable and work together to rebuild the unions to the status of working for the members not for the government or corporate America. All members are the union. All members are responsible to protect each other. All members who fight for what is right will win! 