Board, mayor force first public schools strike since 1987 on Chicago... Union leaders promise to continue negotiations through the weekend

The President of the 30,000-member Chicago Teachers Union and the members of the union's smaller bargaining team stood somberly before a packed room full of reporters at precisely six p.m. on Friday September 7, 2012. CTU President Karen Lewis announced that virtually no progress had been made on Friday at the bargaining table — three days before the CTU is scheduled to begin the first strike in a quarter century.

"Frankly, I was very disappointed," Lewis told reporters in answer to a question about why there had been rumors of progress at the bargaining table earlier in the day.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis (at microphones) stands with the main members of the union's negotiating team during the brief press conference on September 7, 2012 at the union's Merchandise Mart offices. Left to right: Attorney Robert Bloch; Grievance Dept. Coordinator Sara Echevarria; Recording Secretary Michael Brunson; President Karen Lewis; Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle; and Vice President Jesse Sharkey. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The conclusion of most observers is that the strike will begin Monday, September 10, with picketing at all Chicago schools and administrative offices. No one on the union side was smiling and the press conference lasted less than ten minutes.

Standing with the union's three other elected officers and with union attorney Robert Bloch and the head of the CTU grievance department, Lewis briefly answered questions and then returned to her offices. Those present at the press conference from the CTU were President Karen Lewis, Vice President Jesse Sharkey, Recording Secretary Michael Brunson, Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle, Attonrey Robert Bloch, and Grievance Department Coordinator Sara Echevarria.

It continued to be clear that Chicago reporters understand little about how the current CTU works.

Lewis had to tell the press that the CTU House of Delegates had authorized the strike to begin on September 10, and that nothing had happened to change that decision. She also said that only the House of Delegates could suspend the strike. In answer to a question about the possibility of calling a last-minute House of Delegates meeting over the weekend, Lewis said that all delegates had access to telephones, email and messages, so that anything is possible. She added that the union's representatives would be willing to work all weekend, noting that Saturday's session would not, however, begin at dawn.

A few minutes earlier, the six members of the negotiating team from the Chicago Board of Education had left the union's offices where they had been all day.

Unlike the union leaders, they refused to answer any questions from reporters. The Board's team now includes Beth Swanson. Swanson is a former CPS official who now works as Mayor Rahm Emanuel's liaison with the public schools. The Board has also added a woman named Barbara Byrd Bennett, the latest addition to the every changing executive leadership at CPS. Byrd Bennett has been serving as "Chief Education Officer" for CPS following her arrival from Detroit less than five months ago. The Board people had no explanation for the composition of the group — or why the highest paid CPS administrator in history, "Chief Executive Officer" Jean-Claude Brizard, was still absent from the negotiations on the eve of the strike.

Members of the Chicago Board of Education's negotiating team hurried out of the offices of the Chicago Teachers Union on September 7, 2012 and refused to answer reporters' questions. Above, Board President David Vitale, Rahm Emanuel's liaison Beth Swanson, and Board Chief Education Officer Barbara Byrd Bennett and be seen in the front, while Joseph Moriarity, Alicia Winckler, and James Franczek are in the rear, mostly in the shadows. As usual, the Board's Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard was not at the negotiations. None of those on the Board's team has any teaching or administrative experience in Chicago's real public schools, although Swanson served briefly as CPS budget director during the time Richard M. Daley was mayor. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The other members of the team that left the union offices on September 7 were Alicia Winckler, "Chief Talent Officer," Joe Moriarity, the Board lawyer, Board President David Vitale, and the Board's chief negotiator James Franczek. Franczek, an outside lawyer, has been leading the Board's team since August 2010, when the Board's people first met with the new leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union. Negotiations on the current contract began in November 2011, according to the union, and more than 50 bargaining sessions have been held. None of the people on the Board's team was willing to answer questions, including why Swanson and Byrd-Bennett were there. The other members of the Board's negotiating team were attorney James Franczek, an outside lawyer who has been paid more than $1 million by the Board since the negotiations began in November 2011, Board President David Vitale, and Board Attorney Joe Moriarity.

In answer to one question from a reporter about a letter sent to CTU by the Board's "Chief Executive Officer" Jean-Claude Brizard, Karen Lewis was visibly angry. According to the reporter's question, Brizard has told the Chicago media that he has asked CTU not to picket the so-called "Children First Schools" beginning Monday. The "Children First Schools" — which are being called Scab Centers by teachers — are the 144 or 145 schools that Brizard has ordered open. Lewis told the reporters that the idea that Board lawyers and other officials can provide activities for children is a joke, and that the union would be glad to share with the press the silly plans being provided for the centers.

Briazrd once again was not present at the negotiations.


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