February House of Delegates Meeting Wrap-Up

The House of Delegates of the CTU (Chicago Teachers Union) met February 7, 2007, at Plumber’s Hall at 1340 West Washington Blvd. This would be the last meeting until April’s meeting because of the Delegates Workshop weekend held in March, an annual affair since the Deborah Lynch administration 2001 - 2004.

It is stated in the letter to the delegates that check-in for the meeting begins only at 3:30 p.m., but witnesses who wish to remain anonymous say that political friends of the officers were en masse commandeering seats by the microphones long before 3:15 p.m.

Stewart copies Lynch, but still discriminates against retirees [Back to Top]

While President Marilyn Stewart has kept the delegates work- shop the annual event it became under former President Lynch, now under President Stewart, the event once again practices the selective discrimination always practiced by the UPC (the United Progressive Caucus of Stewart and company) in that the 33 elected retiree delegates are not allowed to attend. During the Lynch administration, retiree delegates were welcomed.

The fact that the UPC, in power for 30 years before Lynch defeated them in 2001, and now, as Stewart’s caucus, in power again, has steadfastly refused to allow retirees to attend the workshop is interpreted by many delegates as fear that the older and possibly wiser heads will show them up in some way, perhaps revealing how little the present leadership knows about union matters.

Pre-meeting question period most valuable for rare democracy at meetings [Back to Top]

The meeting of February 7th had the usual “pre-meeting” question period at 4:00 p.m. This question period has become all-important in that it is frequently the only time delegates can speak at the meeting to issues important to them and can also question the leadership. The present leadership has placed the official 15-minute comment and question period so late in the meeting’s agenda that it is frequently canceled by a call to adjourn the meeting, a call usually made by UPC members when any members of the opposition to Stewart’s policies are lined up to speak at the microphones.

During this initial question period at 4:00 p.m. on this day, the issues raised covered a wide spectrum. Lou Pyster, retiree delegate and former CTU research director, asked about union endorsements for mayor and aldermen. Stewart said there was no endorsement for mayor, though a member could have mailed in a motion to endorse, and that the CFL (Chicago Federation of Labor), of which she is a member, had made aldermanic endorsements which could be found in the delegates packet. She and others in the leadership said that a committee met and decided not to make endorsements. Pyster said that the House of Delegates should have made that decision.

[To date, there have been no endorsements that could be found made by the CTU on the aldermanic run-off elections coming on April 17, with other unions — especially SEIU (Service Employees International Union) — doing the heavy lifting. Perhaps there will be something in the April House of Delegates meeting.]

Delegate Ray Wohl of the Irving Park Middle School stated that there had been no motions made from the floor of the House of Delegates in over a year (motions regularly being ruled out of order). He asked the union officers, “Where in the meeting, in your agenda, can we make a motion?” Recording Secretary Mary McGuire answered, “You can make motions during the Items for Action.” She added that an amendment to a motion had been made just last month. Wohl responded that that was an amendment, not a motion.

Union “scattering A-bombs of negativity” says former CTU Financial Secretary [Back to Top]

The House was treated to some even better double talk in President Stewart’s response to James Alexander, retiree delegate and former CTU Financial Secretary under Lynch. Alexander said that he had not received the January issue of the union paper (as I and many other city-wide and retiree delegates still had not — an ever-present problem), nor had he been in attendance at the January meeting. He said that he understood that the officers had made charges against him in both venues, saying that he had as financial secretary reported inaccurate monthly union membership figures during Lynch’s administration. Alexander said this was slanderous and libelous, and a scattering of “A bombs of negativity.”

These charges against Alexander were the UPC’s answer to the charge made by Lynch’s caucus PACT (Pro-Active Chicago Teachers and School Employees) that the present union chiefs had lost at least 4,000 members since their tenure in office and that despite these losses they were doing nothing about the non-union charter schools that Stewart had said in a previous meeting were all union and not to be worried about.

Stewart’s response to Alexander was that since Alexander was operating on hearsay, not having received the paper or attended the meeting where indeed all this was said about Alexander, that he could not speak to the charges. Delegates gasped at this latest example of Catch-22 double-speak from our union president.

Later in the meeting, after the Treasurer’s Report presented by Mark Ochoa, the present Financial Secretary, Alexander was able to ask as a point of personal privilege to see the proof about the charge against him about inaccurate reporting. He asked, “How could the secretary who had done this work for over 20 years have suddenly made such a mistake during the Lynch administration?” Stewart responded that it was also the same auditor that had been used for 20 years who had reported the error, and that, just as Ochoa had re- ported, $800,000 had been recovered of the dues overpaid by the Lynch administration to the AFT, IFT, and the national AFL-CIO.

Ochoa had also reported that when the membership numbers were checked and compared to the dues, an internal review and AFT audit confirmed that it had not been a sudden drop in membership, but that 40 percent of the discrepancy was due to inaccurate reporting, another 40 percent to non-union schools and school closings, and 20 percent to lower enrollment. (40 percent loss of union membership to non-union schools translates to 1,600 members lost — nothing to sneeze at, though Stewart had said she wasn’t worried.)

Stewart had also said that while $800,000 was recovered, it was too late to recover another $800,000 that had been overpaid.

Stewart had cut off Alexander, and it was my turn to speak at the mike. I chanted, “Show us the money!” several times, as the present officers in my opinion are wont to say anything and always refuse to show you the proof when they invite you to come to the union offices to see (as in their contracts and perks).

I then said that the officers were just campaigning and politicking from the stage and wasting the delegates’ time. At this point, Stewart cut me off saying I was out of order and that she would throw that money down in single dollar bills. The sergeant-at-arms grabbed for my mike, and I had to laugh my way back to my seat.

Sarah Loftus, delegate from Marquette School and former director under Lynch, told people at Billy Goat’s Restaurant after the meeting that it was an impossible scenario presented by Stewart and Ochoa, that the Board when sending the membership numbers also sent the dues simultaneously and did the officers mean to say that the Board overpaid for the union dues.

Unions get Stroger elected only to see him attack unions [Back to Top]

In response to another delegate during the pre-meeting question period, Stewart reported that contract negotiations were going slowly; they were cleaning up the language in the current contract; and the Board had yet to give the union its demands. In response to Senn High School Delegate Jesse Sharkey’s question regarding the cuts in city health services and what chilling effect they might have on our contract negotiations, Stewart said that the CFL said, “We got Todd Stroger elected, and now he cuts staff — his staff saying, ‘It’s those union contracts.’”

City-wide Delegate Social Worker Bill Dolnick reported that one doctor who was laid off was the doctor responsible for starting juvenile ser- vices, and that he was escorted out for talking to the press. He asked if the committee reports could be moved up on the agenda since the meetings are frequently adjourned before the committees can give their reports. He said that there has been no report on the most important issue of Ren10 for a long time that he could remember. Stewart said she would suggest that committee re- ports be published and placed in meeting packets.

Meeting begins with naming the army of sergeants-at-arms — again

The meeting was officially called to order at 4:33 p.m. and delegates were again treated to the long roll call of the names of the sergeants-at-arms our union chiefs have pulled together seemingly to protect themselves from some unknown hordes poised to attack. Dear Reader, you know how it works: If you’re a thief, you think everyone else is one too. If you’re a thug, ditto.

A photo of delegates newly elected and now seated was also taken after the House applauded them.

President Stewart then gave her report which ran the gamut of issues: child obesity (we’re against it and will push for daily PE for all grades); May 9th, Lobby Day in Springfield, will also be Teacher Appreciation Day; All ducks lined up in right direction for education funding Senate Bill 750; Monique Davis has a bill to eliminate the virtual school in Chicago which makes us a lab experiment that would not be tried downstate; Mandating that students wash their hands before they eat (we’re for it if that means all schools would be fully equipped for it, “but you can’t tell if boys’ hands are wet from water or urine,” Stewart said; PAT layoffs (we’re against them); Door hangers for union solidarity—Let union know if there is administrative pressure against the initiative.

Stewart stressed that January 31 had come and gone as a deadline for the announcement of school closings. This might be tied into the mayoral election and the commercials for how the mayor has created great schools, she said, adding that the Board said that tests had interfered with the announcements. Now they can’t close the schools, or we grieve, President Stewart said.

Items for Action bring more heat to the House [Back to Top]

The first motion that the CTU Executive Board approved for endorsement was Item A. and read: “Demand that the appropriate Board employees be disciplined for the haphazard and inappropriate manner in which W2s were sent to many employees. Further, demand that corrective action be taken and procedures be put in place to safe-guard our members’ personal information.”

Former grievance coordinator and retiree delegate, Gail Koffman (now replaced as grievance coordinator by Colleen Dykas), said in moving the motion, that the Board claims not to know who is responsible for the fiasco; that they had said they would send some letter to the employees with a copy to the union, but have not sent that yet. She went on to say that the W2’s came in unsealed envelopes, mailed to the wrong schools, were lost, carbons went missing, and retirees had their Cobra info revealed to everyone who was sent the mailing. She ended saying she wished the union could fire Board people.

Delegate Veronica Rieck from Lafayette School moved to close debate after three other people had spoken in favor of the motion, but Delegate Ray Wohl of Irving Park School said that he wished to speak. President Stewart said if there was time left the debate must go on.

“Finally, a little democracy,” someone cried out.

Ray Wohl said he thought the motion was a frivolous one; that he was against attacking and disciplining underlings at the Board. He said that knowing the Board, they would blame and fire clerks and secretaries, not administrators, in moves that would be against our contract.

When Maureen Callaghan, Clerk Delegate and former Union Treasurer under Lynch, went to speak, Gail Koffman interrupted saying that after a motion to close debate, only one speaker was allowed to speak against the motion if there hadn’t been one. A lot of parliamentary game-playing then en- sued just so Callaghan wouldn’t speak. But ultimately, with the help of Parliamentarian Barbara Hillman, she was allowed to speak and tried to change the motion to emphasize Board administrators rather than employees being at fault and to concentrate on the corrective actions in the second sentence. Her amendment failed and the original motion passed, both by an unclear voice vote.

Union only opposed to school closings if the Board violates its own rules? [Back to Top]

Item for Action “B. Demand that the Board abide by its own guide- line on school closings, which states, ‘Such notice shall be provided on or before January 31 of the academic year in which a school is recommended to close...’” was heatedly criticized as implicitly accepting the closings of schools as long as the Board followed its own rules on how it would be done.

Former CTU President Deborah Lynch, now elected High School Functional Vice President on the Executive Board of the Union, said she opposed this motion as written. Lynch, Lou Pyster, and Debby Pope, delegate from Gage Park High School, argued for a substitute motion that incorporated such elements as the CTU demanding a freeze on the closing of any schools and the displacement of any employees and the CTU not opposing school closings on a Board-created technicality, but opposing them because they harm children and are wrong. They argued that it was not enough to file a grievance if the Board violates its own rule. They said it was important to unequivocally take a stand against school closings.

This substitute motion was defeated by a standing vote that two visitor/observers in the balcony who wish to remain anonymous said was incorrectly reported by the sergeants-at-arms counting the votes.

(This may sound like sour grapes, but there have been times when clearly the vote totals have even been flipped in order to effect the outcomes desired by the officers, according to many delegates and observers. I only report what I have been told by those in a better vantage point to see from the balcony than those of us voting from the main floor. There were approximately 12 visitors/observers in the balcony at this meeting. Hopefully, observers in the future can keep our union from becoming the “Chicago Cheaters Union.”)

Is the union giving up its power by an early endorsement of Barack Obama? [Back to Top]

Item for Action C. read “Approve the resolution urging the American Federation of Teachers to engage in an early endorsement of Senator Obama’s cancidacy for the President of the United States.”

Ironically, some of the very people who voted against a union endorsement of then Illinois State Senator Barack Obama in his run for U.S. Senator for 2004 have now, as CTU officers, initiated a motion urging an early endorsement of his candidacy for President of the United States of America.

Senator Obama might possibly still be in the Illinois State Senate if former CTU President Debbie Lynch and team had not “split” the labor movement’s primary endorsement in 2003 to assure that Obama won the Democratic Party endorsement as opposed to Dan Hynes.

Jacqueline Price Ward, delegate from Marquette School and former CTU Recording Secretary under Lynch, pointed out that it was the Lynch administration who despite great opposition urged the endorsement of Obama through the IFT, a sparsely diverse board.

As if a race card were being played, there was much joking from the officers’ podium when President Stewart asked if anyone dared to speak against the motion.

Delegate Ray Wohl rose to be the one to speak against this motion, saying that he had been at the meeting in question and had voted and supported Obama, and would vote for him for president. He argued, however, that the CTU should leverage our favorite status and invite both Senators Hillary Clinton and Obama to speak to the House of Delegates on educational issues. “We are giving up the power that we have,” Wohl stated. President Stewart stated that the AFT would be doing the same in the spring and that the national organization would pick its candidate. The motion passed by voice vote.

The official Q & A [Back to Top]

Items brought up during the official question period brought out several points of interest. Lou Pyster was able to establish both at the mike and with clarification later in discussion with the officers that the number of members in the Financial Secretary’s membership report properly did not include agency fair-share payers, though their fees were used in the payments to the affiliate organizations.

President Stewart answered a question saying that the officers were negotiating a contract in good faith, and that striking would never be a first option. She said there would never be the same vote for a contract and a strike. Teachers without tenure should be told they would not be fired in a job action, she added.

A teacher who had been threatened by a student with a gun was advised to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s office in a situation where it seemed that the administration of the school was confusing special education discipline guidelines with police rules. She was also advised to look at the student discipline code and file a grievance.

When a teacher complained that everything now had to be done online and what a burden it was to teachers, Retiree Delegate Gail Koffman stated only that the Board must furnish the computers.

I have not named delegates I do not know in this report because it is now impossible to call them on the phone to verify their quote. With so many new delegates, the old handbooks I’ve been trying to use are getting less and less helpful and will soon be entirely obsolete. In the past, one could look up delegates in the delegates handbook (having caught either their name or part of their name or school at the meeting) and call them if they had not declined to be listed.

However, now that the current union chiefs have broken with the tradition of publishing a delegates hand- book, delegates can no longer be in touch. Those in control of the union are apparently afraid of delegates communicating with one another. I guess it’s one way of trying to stay in power.

The question period had almost run its course when the call for adjournment came. The meeting ended shortly after 6:00 p.m. before the committees could give their reports.

When is an invite a disinvite? [Back to Top]

The answer to the question When is an invite a disinvite? When the invitation to the union Day Salsa Party says “Salsa with your valentine” thereby disinviting all of the many who do not have a valentine. Gratefully, the leaflet in the packet corrected this thoughtless error.

To those with and without valentines, and to those teachers and school employees who are beleaguered in this time of teacher torture in Chicago, it is hoped that your spring vacation was everything you had hoped it would be.

The slates of candidates running in the union elections on May 18th will be announced at the April House of Delegates meeting, April 11th.  

Sign the Petition to Dismantle No Child Left Behind at www.educatorroundtable.org

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