Chicago Teachers Union leaders make fierce push to get members of the so-called 'Big Bargaining Team' to push for the 'TA'...

Members of the so-called "Big Bargaining Team" (BBT) of the Chicago Teachers Union were held at the union offices for nearly six hours on January 30, 2016, while union leaders pushed through with an agenda that tried to prove that the claims about the Chicago Public Schools financial situation are true, followed by a partial item-by-item rendition of the proposed "Tentative Agreement" that union leaders, Chicago political leaders, and Chicago's City Hall have all been leaking to the city's news media.

When thousands of CTU members rallied in the cold in Grant Park on December 14, 2015, they had just voted to authorize a strike. One of the questions that was straightforward asked the members if they would strike if the Board took away the pension pickup.The meeting, called late on Friday January 29, was supposed to last from ten in the morning until two in the afternoon, but it lasted much longer than that, according to sources who were present for the entire event.

Part of the reason for the event was the claim made by the union's leaders that no Tentative Agreement could be brought to the union's 28,000 members until it had been "approved" by the BBT. In fact, the BBT has no legal standing under the Constitution and By-Laws of the CTU. According to the union's own rules, and more than 40 years of historical tradition that has resulted in ten contracts, proposed tentative agreements are submitted to the union's House of Delegates.

The House of Delegates, the elected body of representatives from all of the city's public schools and other places where union members work, is the legal body -- not the BBT. The House of Delegates, after reviewing the proposed tentative agreement at a meeting, makes a recommendation to the membership regarding the PTA.

The House of Delegates is scheduled to meet on Wednesday February 3, 2016.

For some time, the leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union have prevented members of the media from understanding the role of the House of Delegates by issuing press information claiming that the "Big Bargaining Team" had some official role in the union's contract approval process.

For example, on January 28, 2016, CTU Communications Chief Stephanie Gadlin sent out the following:

Members of the Press,

Here is a late evening (Thursday, January 28) update from the CTU regarding the status of contract talks. This was just received and I'm sending it now as an update. The primary bargaining team has just concluded this day's talks. If you need comment for broadcast purposes tonight, call CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey on his cell at 773-791-7006. Here is the statement:

"After a period of intense and difficult bargaining, the CTU has received a serious offer from Chicago Public Schools. The CTU requires that any Tentative Agreements be made by its Big Bargaining Team, a 40 member committee of teachers, PSRP's and clinicians, which will convene, deliberate, and vote on Monday. While the Union will not release details of the offer without Big Bargaining Team approval, the basic framework calls for economic concessions in exchange for enforceable protections of education quality and job security. If the Union is able to reach a Tentative Agreement, delegates will be apprised of details shortly," said CTU President Karen Lewis.

Thank you,

Stephanie Gadlin

CTU Communcations Director

Following the January 28 version of reality, the city's reporters and corporate media were treated to competing versions of the agreement. City Hall, CPS, and CTU were all providing reporters with "off the record" materials. By January 30, when the "BBT" was assembled again, most reporters were aware of the legal role of the 800-member House of Delegates. But the skirmishes and battles of the press leaks continued as January ended.

The union's Executive board (mostly elected) will meet on February 1, with the House of Delegates meeting on February 3. Whether the members of either group will get the complete PTA is still not clear.

Teachers across the city became more and more angry at school meetings on the "TA". Many cited the fact that less than two months ago, they stood in the freezing cold in Grant Park at a rally talking tough after authorizing a strike. And, most noted, one of the questions on the "strike authorization" referendum was whether they would strike if the Board tried to take away the seven percent pension pickup. "They should have also asked what we'd do if the union President tried to give away the pension pickup," one teacher, who asked to remain anonymous because of bullying issues within the union, said.

Dozens of news stories and photographs remind the union's members of the contradictions between late January 2016 and mid-December 2015. On December 14 and 15, 2015, the Chicago Tribune reported on the Grant Park rally:

CTU: Chicago teachers authorize a strike if contract talks break down

By Juan Perez Jr and Grace Wong

Chicago teachers made clear they're prepared to walk off the job for the second time in three years absent a deal with the city's school board, presenting one more political challenge to Mayor Rahm Emanuel even though a potential strike remains months away.

The Chicago Teachers Union said on Monday that in three days of voting last week, 88 percent of 24,752 eligible members agreed to authorize union leaders to call a strike. That's well above the 75 percent necessary for a strike to occur under state law.

CTU President Karen Lewis and her team now have the authority to brandish the biggest weapon the union carries in talks with the Chicago Board of Education, which have stalled after more than a year at the table.

"Rahm Emanuel really does not need a teacher's strike," CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey told reporters gathered at union headquarters Monday. "He really doesn't. And what we're telling him is that if he doesn't listen to us, that's what he's going to get."

But the remaining steps before a strike can occur means Chicago Public Schools classrooms will remain open for some time. CTU and the district are not only far apart on a number of provisions for a contract to replace one that expired June 30, they're also at odds over when to launch a final period of negotiations that will take up to four months and must precede a strike.

The timing of that "fact-finding" process carries big implications for when a strike would occur.

"If (fact-finding were to begin) today, this thing could come to a head sometime in late March or early April," Sharkey said. "The board has different ideas and is trying to drag their feet. And if that happened we might not see a strike until the very end of the school year or potentially even the beginning of next school year."

Teacher contract dispute deepens, tests state law before union strike vote

In addition, a state board controlled by Gov. Bruce Rauner, who is working to weaken public sector unions, now plays a role in the process. The union demanded a start to fact-finding last month and, after the school system declined the offer, filed an unfair labor practice claim with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board.

The labor board meets in Springfield this week but won't take up the issue, meaning the CTU's claim won't be heard until late next month at the earliest.

CPS chief Forrest Claypool on Monday continued his call for financial help from state lawmakers and urged the union to join that fight amid the district's latest budget crisis, rather than move toward a strike.

"We have the highest respect for our teachers' work, and while we understand their frustrations, a strike that threatens to set back our students' progress is simply not the answer to our challenges," Claypool said in a statement.

The district says that without state help, layoffs and more unsustainable borrowing will be necessary. The school board on Wednesday is expected to approve borrowing that includes a $130 million line of short-term credit. On Monday, CPS distributed a consultant's Dec. 11 memo that said the district is projected to "completely exhaust its current line of credit and cash resources" by January.

The district has said the annual cost of CTU's demands would easily exceed $1 billion annually.

"So rather than strike, we ask that the Chicago Teachers Union join us to fight for our shared goal of equal education funding from Springfield for Chicago's children," Claypool said.

The state law that requires three-quarters of the union's membership to authorize a work stoppage was written in part to tamp down the possibility of a strike. But the CTU twice now has had little problem reaching that threshold. In June 2012, nearly 90 percent of CTU members authorized union leaders to call a strike, leading to a seven-day walkout that September.

Over the past several weeks, the union exhorted its members to approve a strike authorization vote, shipping busloads of red-shirted teachers downtown for a rally in Grant Park late last month and promoting the vote on social media.

This summer, union and CPS officials expressed optimism that a deal was within reach. But talks over a one-year contract broke down and the district said it would pursue a multiyear pact.

Union officials say the district has asked for a contract that would amount to $653 million in cuts. The union also is fighting a number of workplace changes the district is seeking.

The district says the union's demands would require hiring more than 1,000 new school nurses, psychologists and social workers as well as hundreds of counselors and case managers. Union demands also include a 3 percent salary increase and pay for snow days.

CPS has said it would have to hire more than 5,000 teachers to accommodate a union demand to shrink classroom sizes.

A fact-finding panel would be made up of representatives from each side and a neutral party. According to the district, once fact-finding begins there must be a 105-day waiting period before a strike can take place.

Talks this time around have taken place without much of the rancor that marked the 2012 negotiations, when Lewis made it her mission to take on Mayor Rahm Emanuel after he took office with promises to make changes the union found unpalatable.

That's not to say heated rhetoric has been absent from the discussion. Sharkey was asked Monday if the union was willing to have members contribute more to their pensions, an issue the city has broached after years of carrying those costs.

"Would I rather get hit by a stick or hit by a rock?" Sharkey asked. "The way I see it is that the problem with our schools all along is that every solution has been attacking educators one way or attacking educators another way. It's time to stop attacking educators."


January 31, 2016 at 11:37 AM

By: George Cruz

Push to TA

So far what has been the reaction by teachers who have been briefed about the details of the proposed contract? As for the statement that CPS financial mess is true there was never any doubt about that. The union leadership has known for a long time but still positioned itself as to not give in and have teachers bail out the wreck less fiscal decisions made by the so many CEOs and presidents of CPS. When the board declared how broke they were, they voted to authorize the expansion of 10 more charter schools without consideration that they cant support their own existing schools.

January 31, 2016 at 2:57 PM

By: Susan Hickey

Big Bargaining Team

I am a member of the BBT both for this contract as well as the 2012. Having the BBT makes it 'real' for the CTU officers. I remember being very angry when Marilyn Stewart presented the 2007 contract to the HOD and the little clinicians had was watered down! If we had the chance to be consulted during the negotiations, I doubt that that would have happened.

Let us start with the 2012 one. Karen Lewis was elected for the first time in 2011. There were a number of factions that ran against her and she included members of those groups as well as me to represent clinicians, who do not have a Functional VP or any other designated positions that could serve on the Executive Board. It was a great unifying gesture and gave voice to groups that had not had the chance to be heard in the previous contract negotiations. Speaking for clinicians, we got our own article and benefits that were given to teachers.

The BBT composes of the Executive Board as well as people like me. I represent about 1500 dues paying CTU members.

The process still has the e-Board making the decision to take it to the House of Delegates and it is still the HOD that will vote on whether the membership vote on it.

We asked the small table team very tough questions and were able to voice them a few times to CPS.

January 31, 2016 at 6:08 PM

By: Michelle Mottram

community schools

Do you have more information about the community schools aspect of the proposed contract? is this a possible loophole for union busting or charter schools?

January 31, 2016 at 7:15 PM

By: George N. Schmidt

Jargon, 'big table,' etc., etc., etc...

WTF are the "small table team" and all this other stuff? Before the current union leadership brought "revolution" to the CTU leadership, we had negotiators and we had Executive Board, HOD and members. The more I read explanations about this stuff, the more convinced I am that it's a bureaucratic move towards obfuscation and a form of simple-minded "buy in." Who is on the co-called "small table team" for example and what is that?

And just for the record, Marilyn Stewart brought in a five year contract on the eve of a strike on August 31, 2007 to the House of Delegates, refused to take the "No" votes at the HOD vote, and then ran downstairs to hold a press conference to announce the CTU wouldn't go on strike after Labor Day because the HOD had "approved" a contract...

Had a hundred members not stormed down outside the locked room where Marilyn was holding her press conference shouting "NO NO NO" and banging on the door, and had I not gone out from the press conference (being threatened with arrest for pushing my way out into that hallway, most of the union's members would never have learned about that step in the Stewart Sellout. Of that year.

So now our leaders have inserted another bit of obfuscation (and lots more jargon) into this ball of confusion. But it's all the same nonsense. What the union needs to do is to negotiate decent contracts for the union's dues paying members -- the majority of whom are teachers in the high schools and elementary schools of Chicago.

Then the union has to enforce the contract we've "won" for all the members every day.

Since the current "revolutionary" leadership took power on July 1, 2010 (not 2011, by the way; chronology is important), the smoke and bullshit have increased to the point where we have reached the current attempts to sell out all the union's members this week.

Community schools are privately subsidized (yes, the idea was first hatched by the wife of the President and CEO of Chase Bank and the money is going to come from Gates-like "philanthropy") and are simply another version of the "Fresh Start" schools that Marilyn Stewart agreed to (with national AFT backing and cheerleading) to sell out members' seniority and other rights (including the right to grieve most stuff).

One of the reasons why Substance maintains a Website is that readers can go back in time on our BACK ISSUES and locate the stories where we tell these facts as they unfold. Blogs have come and gone for about a decade now, and people in power are always going to make up lies (or half truths or partial truths) about history.

Better to know some of the fact and have access to the others when memory is uncertain than to have to believe the latest lies of those in power -- whether the power is in the hands of the staff and leaders of the CTU or the lawyers and latest leaders of the CPS.

January 31, 2016 at 7:49 PM

By: George cruz

Contract details

Looks like details have been leaked in Suntimes article. 3.5 % pay cut this July plus increase healthcare cuts and another 3.5 PAYCUT in 2017 plus further healthcare cost. The article also mentions if the CTU does agree and contract passes....if not enough people retire the contract gets reopened this summer and goes to fact finding. I can't understand if CPS is broke then why not cancel the longer school year.

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