Groups say vote NO on Friday, November 20... Stewart in last expensive effort to maintain dictatorial control over the 31,000-member Chicago Teachers Union

While the majority of Chicago teachers and other school workers have been preoccupied with the tragic death of Chicago Board of Education President Michael Scott and the hectic days of "report card pickup", the President of the Chicago Teachers Union and her dwindling number of core supporters, most of them on the union's paid staff, have spent the week spending union money and using union telephones to promote President Marilyn Stewart's side of a controversial set of proposals to fundamentally change the union's governance structure and complete the job of making Stewart the "Chief Executive Officer" of the largest teacher union in Illinois.

After she spoke in opposition to the continuation of the Board of Education's "Renaissance 2010" program for privatizing Chicago public schools during her public comments at the October 28, 2009 Board meeting, Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart (above, third from left) met briefly with members of CORE who had spoken at the Board meeting and agreed with Stewart's call for an elected school board in Chicago. Left to right above: Carol Caref (Chicago Vocational), Karen Lews (King High School), Stewart, Rosita Chatonda (displaced teacher), Jay Rehak (Whitney Young High School), and Lois Ashford (O'Keefe Elementary School). The brief moment of agreement did not last long, as Stewart dispatched her "Chief of Staff" John Ostenburg to send a scathing attack on CORE to the union's entire membership following a typographic error in a CORE leaflet opposing the November 20 Stewart-supported referenda. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. On Friday, November 20, 2009, the members of the Chicago Teachers Union will be voting in all schools and at all other jobs sites where the union's members work on three referenda that would fundamentally change the union structure.

Stewart is claiming that the proposals have the support of the "Union" and has been spending tens of thousands of union dues to promote her side of the issue.

On the other side, virtually every other group and caucus within the union is opposed to Stewart's positions.

But a series of moves that have given Stewart dictatorial control over the union's voting procedures may get Stewart a narrow victory when the votes are counted, regardless of whether the majority of union members want the union to continue in the radical direction Stewart has taken during the five years she has served as CTU president and especially during the two years since she pushed through an unpopular contract and then began the process of trying to purge the union of two officers who had been elected with her by the members in the most recent union election, which was held in May 2007.

Underlying it all are a series of complex bureaucratic maneuvers that are unknown even to most of the union's members, and a dramatic decision on Stewart's part to exclude more than 3,000 of the union's 31, 000 members (the retired members) from voting at all on the crucial November 20 referenda.

Chicago's teachers get their own versions of Pravda

Anyone reading the Chicago Union Teacher, the official publication of the Chicago Teachers Union, or the union's web site ( in early November 2009 would have been surprised to learn that the most important issues facing Chicago's classroom teachers and the others who work in the schools all dealt with internal CTU politics. But a measure of the bulk of information provided to the union's 31,000 members from official sources could only lead to that conclusion.

The CTU newspaper, the "Chicago Union Teacher" barely noted the fact that the union was finally officially opposing the expansion of privatization and charter schools under Mayor Daley's Renaissance 2010 program, and the CUT (as it's called by union members) ignored the fact that on October 28, the CTU President had called for an elected school board in Chicago. A major election defeat for Marilyn Stewart in the recent pension trustee elections was relegated to one small paragraph, while at least five pages in the 24-page glossy color tabloid were devoted to profiles of some of the more prominent members of Stewart's dwindling "United Progressive Caucus" (without actually mentioning that fact). The CTU website blared the following in early November:

Message from the president... VOTE YES ON NOVEMBER 20

If you will not be at your home school on Friday you can vote with a supplemental ballot. Come prepared with your union card and ID or a check stub and ID.

On Friday, November 20, members of the Chicago Teachers Union will have the opportunity to vote in the schools on three important governance changes to the Union's constistution.

If enacted, these changes will save the Union thousands of dollars in the future and also will streamline our governing process. The three referendum items have been endorsed by the Union's Executive Board -- all of whom are elected at-large by the entire membership -- after careful review of proposals put forward by the CTU's attorneys.

Below you will find a link to a fact sheet that gives the various reasons behind the proposed amendments and the cost-savings that are anticipated. I urge you to read the attached information closely and to give careful consideration to what is proposed.

Many rumors have been circulated over the last several months about circumstances within our Union, and persons with their personal agendas have attacked my efforts to bring reform and fiscal responsibility to our organization. It has not been an easy task to move the Union from a position of deficit to one of financail soundness. Nor has it been easy to hold individuals -- including even some who originally were elected as part of my own slate -- accountable for their actions. But the future of the Chicago Teachers Union required the steps that have been taken, and so far those steps have proven to be successful. The referendum items being proposed will firm-up the reform of the Chicago Teachers Union and will increase our overall fiscal stability. They will move our organization forward in a way that makes our governing structure more consistent with what is found in other major labor organizations. I urge you to support these referendum items by voting YES on all three this Friday, November 20.

To read either the union's Website or its official newspaper, the union member who wasn't drawing on other sources of union information would have had to conclude that the controversial referendum on November 20 was a policy of the union. In fact, the proposals for action on November 20 had not even been submitted to the union's House of Delegates, the 800-member body that represents every school in the city and every group in the union. Instead, Stewart had gotten approval for the referendum from the CTU "Executive Board," a body that is appointed by Stewart herself, either directly (for committee chairmen) or indirectly (because the members are elected by slate voting every three years). Stewart also has refused to disclose the names of the current members of the Executive Board, nor can anyone find those names in any official union document. The secrecy with which the Executive Board works has been part of what a growing number of members have watched as an executive coup d'etat unique in the union's 75-year history.

There are many details showing how the CTU, once one of the most democratic unions in the USA, had gotten to this point, and they are worth reviewing today.

For more than two years, Stewart had asserted that the House of Delegates could be ignored if she had received the support of her own hand-picked body, the "Executive Board." But a careful student of the union couldn't even learn, from any official CTU source, who the members of the Executive Board were. And union members who had tried to attend Executive Board meetings during the previous two years had been told they would be arrested by security guards at the Merchandise Mart, where the CTU offices are located, and private security guards hired by Stewart without union approval.

The first significant assertion of executive power over the union came in December 2007. At that time, Stewart made the first moves to purge the man who had elected her and who had been re-elected Vice President of the union less than a year earlier, Ted Dallas.

In December 2007, Stewart sent a letter to then CEO of CPS Arne Duncan (signed "in solidarity, Marilyn Stewart") informing the boss that she was stripping Dallas of his powers to communicate with officials at the Board. Although Stewart had utilized executive powers prior to December 2007, the beginning of her campaign to purge her own inner circle really dates the time when it became clear to a great number of members.

The December "In Solidarity" letter to Arne Duncan was followed by a six-month campaign to strip Dallas of his elected office, first by trying to take it away directly, and then by having a vote on Stewart's hand-picked Executive Board to remove him from union membership. Dallas was subjected to a trial by the Executive Board, which met in secret while union members protested outside the Merchandise Mart, and Stewart's security told union members who tried to attend the Executive Board meetings that they would be arrested if they entered the building. After several days of expensive and unprecedented hearings, Stewart announced that the Executive Board had voted that Dallas had violated union rules and stripped him of his union membership.


Final edited version of this article posted at November 21, 2009, 5:00 p.m. CDT. If you choose to reproduce this article in whole or in part, or any of the graphical material included with it, please give full credit to SubstanceNews as follows: Copyright © 2009 Substance, Inc., Please provide Substance with a copy of any reproductions of this material and we will let you know our terms — or you can take out a subscription to Substance (see red button to the right) and make a donation. We are asking all of our readers to either subscribe to the print edition of Substance (a bargain at $16 per year) or make a donation. Both options are available on the right side of our Home Page. For further information, feel free to call us at our office at 773-725-7502.


November 20, 2009 at 6:21 PM

By: Bernie


Steinmetz Staff voted

#1 - 88 no - 8 yes

#2 - 88 no - 9 yes

#3 - 88 no - 9 yes

Teachers and support staff are tired of Ms. Stewart; and my guess is they will not support her in the next elections. (Teachers just cannot tolerate the UPC for long periods. As A.Lincoln said "you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of people all of the time") It looks like Ms. Stewart's time is up.

November 20, 2009 at 6:56 PM

By: bob

November 20

November 20.

25 years ago tomorrow a hero died, and a school was born.


November 21, 2009 at 9:10 AM

By: Bernie


"you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of people all of the time"

It would seems many CTU members may be stuck in the first two statements

November 21, 2009 at 9:30 PM

By: Margaret Wilson

Retired teacher

I think the idea of publishing school by school results on-line instead of in-print has some validity. However, we can't trust Marilyn to keep her promises and this makes it easier for her to fudge on the results or say "oh you must have missed them." I hope the members were smart enough to vote down all of her proposals.


Add your own comment (all fields are necessary)

Substance readers:

You must give your first name and last name under "Name" when you post a comment at We are not operating a blog and do not allow anonymous or pseudonymous comments. Our readers deserve to know who is commenting, just as they deserve to know the source of our news reports and analysis.

Please respect this, and also provide us with an accurate e-mail address.

Thank you,

The Editors of Substance

Your Name

Your Email

What's your comment about?

Your Comment

Please answer this to prove you're not a robot:

3 + 5 =