Stewart wins narrow victories in Chicago Teachers Union referendum fights

After devoting thousands of hours of union staff time and tens of thousands of dollars to the effort, Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart won a small victory on November 20, 2009, when the union's membership voted in favor of three proposals to change union procedures and the unio Constitution and by-laws.

The Chicago Teachers Union still uses paper ballots and does hand counts on its elections and referenda. Above, the final written tallies of the three votes taken in the schools on November 20, 2009. By contrast, prior to Marilyn Stewart's 2004 election, CTU contracted the election and other voting jobs to the American Arbitration Association so that the integrity of the elections could be easily proven. The recent (October 30, 2009) CTPF elections also utilized the services of an independent contractors, who used state-of-the-art electronic equipment and software to tabulates the votes for pension trustees. The CTU Rules-Elections Committee has been dominated by members of Marilyn Stewart's United Progressive Caucus (UPC) since Stewart took over the union in August 2004 and purged all members of the union's committees who were not loyal to her. It was the UPC-dominated Rules Elections Committee that counted the votes after the November 20 referenda. Substance photo. The preliminary votes on the three propositions that were brought before the CTU membership were as follows.

1. The first item voted on allows the CTU to publish the results of elections and referenda (including contract votes) on a school-by-school basis on the union's website, but ends the practice of publishing those results in the print edition of the Chicago Union Teacher. That change was approved by the following vote:

Yes, 10,079; No, 6.060

2. The second item abolishes the position of Treasurer, leaving the CTU with four elected officers (President, Vice President, Recording Secretary, Financial Secretary). That change was approved by the following vote: Yes, 8,746; No, 7,397

3. The third item allows the union's Executive Board to terminate the membership of any union members, including an elected officer, but provides that an elected officer so removed is also immediately removed from office. That change was approved by the following vote:

Yes, 8,502; No, 7,168

As of 2:30 a.m. on November 21, 2009, the Chicago Teachers Union website ( has not yet announced the above results or the school-by-school reports.

During the morning of November 21, 2009, the CTU posted the following results and message from Marilyn Stewart on its website:

Referendum Item #1 – Posting election results on website … 10,079 Yes; 6,060 No

Referendum Item #2 – Eliminating position of Treasurer … 8,746 Yes; 7,397 No

Referendum Item #3 – Removal of office-holders if they lose membership … 8,502 Yes; 7,168 No


The three referenda followed a month-long campaign by the union's officers and staff, based on Stewart's continuing claim that anything approved by the CTU Executive Board has the force of union policy even though she refuses to submit it to the union's House of Delegates. Prior to Stewart's second term in office as CTU President, the executive powers of the union's president and the supposed powers of the union's Executive Board to override the House of Delegates had never been asserted, so for more than two years, many in the union had been dumbfounded as Stewart has claimed unprecedented power for herself in the face of growing opposition both inside her own caucus and across the city where CTU members work in more than 600 public schools and offices.

Outside the Merchandise Mart, CTU members from different caucuses came together on June 12, 2008, to protest while the union's Executive Board met upstairs to begin the purge trial of Vice President Ted Dallas. Although the pickets were barred from protesting at the main entrance to the Mart along the Chicago River and limited to the corner of Kinzie and Wells St. two blocks from the main entrance of the huge building, they were able to make their point. Above, the protesters include (left to right from rear) Whitney Young High School Delegate Ted Dallas, Gage Park High School Delegate Deborah Lynch (former CTU President), McPherson Elementary School Delegate Pam Touros, an unidentified teacher, and Chris Rudinski, who had been delegate from Orr High School until he became a displaced teacher under the "turnaround" policies of Arne Duncan. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.By 6:00 a.m. on November 21, 2009, the morning after the voting and several hours after the preliminary count was completed at the CTU's Merchandise Mart offices, the CTU website still had not published the tallies. Instead, the website continued to carry a reminder about how Stewart had asserted her power to dictate union policy — and expend union dollars — by vote of the Executive Board. The lead story on the Home Page of the CTU website on November 21, 2009, read as follows:

The Chicago Teachers Union switchboard will be open beginning at 7:30 a.m. on Friday, November 20, for any inquiries regarding the referendum on constitutional amendments. 312-329-9100


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.

Click here for additional referendum information.

The 'additional information' consists of the Talking Points Stewart and her lieutenants had prepared prior to the voting and mailed to every union member at CTU expense. The campaign to win the "Yes" vote on each of the three items Stewart had placed on the agenda continued at union expense for more than three weeks prior to the voting. It included phone banks at which union members, all members of Stewart's United Progressive Caucus, were paid to call union members, a long story in the November issue of the Chicago Union Teacher (the union's newspaper), and mailings.

Roots go back to 2007 contract, Stewart purge of Ted Dallas

The impact of the latest consolidation of power by Marilyn Stewart will be felt in the coming months (and possible years, depending upon the outcome of the May 2010 union election), but the story begins in 2007, within weeks after Stewart defeated former union President Deborah Lynch in a two-way race for the union presidency. After winning the May 2007 election at the head of the same slate run by the "United Progressive Caucus" (UPC) three years earlier, Stewart began consolidating power against the very people who had organized the campaign that brought her victory in both 2004 and 2007. By the middle of the summer of 2007, she had barred the union's elected officers from the collective bargaining meetings with the Board of Education's lawyers and negotiated the 2007 - 2012 contract by herself.

At the time the union's members and delegates did not know what had happened, because for a few more months the "Stewart Team" (as it had been called during the election campaign in May and June 2007) maintained its unity. The most visible example of the split came during the raucous protests following Stewart's refusal to count the "No" votes at the end of a heated meeting of the House of Delegates on August 31, 2007. After calling for a voice vote and telling the House members she had heard a "Yes," Stewart refused to call for the "No" votes or take a vote count. Instead, she quickly left the hall and proceeded downstairs to where the TV cameras and other media had been assembled to announce that the union's delegates had approved her proposed contract. Only a large protest from the delegates who had assembled on the Friday beginning Labor Day weekend prevented Stewart from continuing the lie (viz., that the House had voted to approve the agreement she negotiated, when in fact she had refused to even count the votes in opposition to her proposal).

Over the next few months, rumors of tension at the CTU's Merchandise Mart offices were verified. By Christmas 2007, Stewart was colluding with the Chief Executive Officer of Chicago's public schools, Arne Duncan, to keep one of the union's elected officers, Vice President Ted Dallas, from communicating with Board officials on behalf of CTU members.

The splits began being reported in the pages of Substance [see, for example, http://www. substance articles. php?page=153§ion=Article]. But few could believe that Stewart was really going to conduct what would amount to a purge of her own inner circle. By June 2008, however, it became obvious, when Stewart convened the union's Executive Board in a trial to strip Dallas of both his union membership and his powers as Vice President. 

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 21, 2009 at 7:20 AM

By: Jean Schwab

Hard to believe

The results have to be a mistake. This is too hard to believe. Something happened. How were the votes counted? Were the blank ballots circulated? There's got to be something. This is very disappointing.

November 21, 2009 at 12:20 PM

By: Danny

Results expected

Since the Stewart propaganda prominently stated that the changes wouldn't take place until May 2010, we should see the school-by-school results in the next Chicago Union Teacher.

Then it's up to the delegates at each of those schools to make sure that the results given for their school were accurate. Naturally, I made a copy of the pink results sheet from my school.

I expect the results will bear out what is being reported.

Only about two-thirds of the CTU members at Taft cast a ballot, and it looks as if the city-wide percentage was even lower.

The Stewart politburo made a very energetic effort to cast Marilyn as the financial savior and pull off this election victory.

*Both paid CTU staffers and "volunteers" made phone calls to the membership.

*The union newspaper made the case for the election only a few days prior. There was no other viewpoint presented.

*Stewart sent a mailing to the membership.

*The CTU sent e-mail messages to all the members for whom they have e-mail addresses.

In all these communications, Marilyn mentions that the Executive Board endorsed the three resolutions. There is no mention that the EB is composed of puppets all bought and paid for (at a very low price of a few perquisites) by Stewart herself.

Against an onslaught of "official" CTU propaganda, I believe the membership voted to do what they thought was the fiscally sound thing to do and approve the resolutions.

Sadly, they were deceived.

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