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Poltrock is back... Chicago Teachers Union delegates skeptical about pronouncements of 'Parliamentarian'

Who is Making the Rules?

In an interesting twist of events at what was to be a new beginning in the first House of Delegates meeting February 18, 2009 for the new three-year term for elected school (and citywide and retiree delegates), CTU President Marilyn Stewart challenged the delegates to restore democracy again.

In defiance of those who have been protesting her erosion of democracy over the past 18 months, Stewart picked attorney Jennifer Poltrock to deliver the union administration's interpretation of Roberts Rules of Order for official business to be conducted during the constitutional mandated monthly meetings. The meetings consist of delegates elected by every school in Chicago. The House of Delegates, according to the CTU Constitution and By-Laws, is supposed to be the highest governing body in the union. It is supposed to be that at each monthly meeting, school delegates assemble to conduct and approve union business. For more than two years, however, most of the major decisions of the CTU have been made in secret by Marilyn Stewart and a small circle of advisors (including the union's outside attorneys, the firm of Poltrock and Poltrock).

August 31, 2007. On August 31, 2007, Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart (above at microphone) brought in a contract that was so controversial among the delegates of the CTU House of Delegates that she refused to count the "No" votes. Then she went downstairs from the meeting -- while hundreds of delegates tried to protest the violations of democracy and Roberts Rules of Order -- to hold a press conference at which she told the media the contract had "passed." The press conference (photo above) was interrupted by dozens of delegates chanting "No! No! No!" Finally, the reporters went away from the Stewart press conference to cover the story outside in the hall -- about how the delegates had not been allowed to vote against the agreement Stewart was bringing to them. In the above photograph, Stewart is standing with three of the four other officers who had been re-elected with her in May 2007. Since the fast vote on the controversial contract, Stewart has purged Vice President Ted Dallas (above right) and refused to allow Treasurer Linda Porter (above left) to perform any of her duties. When the CTU House of Delegates meets, Stewart allows an unelected person such as attorney Jennifer Poltrock to share the stage with her as the union's "Parliamentarian." At the same time, she has been barring two of the five people the membership had elected less than two years earlier from the meetings -- and in one case, from union membership. Key to Stewart's ability to purge the union of elected officers have been expensive and controversial legal advice provided by the law firm of Poltrock and Poltrock. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. While many of the delegates were new to the House on February 18, 2009, veteran delegates immediately demanded to know why Stewart had selected Jennifer Poltrock.

Poltrock was the person who had approved the greatest violation of Roberts Rules of Order and union democracy in recent memory less than two years earlier. Several You Tube videos still available (see the note at the end of this article) show Jennifer Poltrock (at the podium at Chicago's Plumber's Union Hall) telling the delegates that the motion to approve the contract requires a "50 percent plus one vote" and refusing to allow the delegates -- many of whom are shouting -- to demand that the "No" votes be counted. This is the same person who, on February 18, 2009, was returned to the chair as "parliamentarian" for the new House of Delegates for the 32,000-member union. Why, many asked, was Poltrock to again to become "Parliamentarian" for the House, especially for the newly elected delegates?

Memories of illegal vote of August 31, 2007

“Who is she to tell us what to do?” said Beaubien Elementary School delegate Jack Moran, a veteran of the House. Moran said he still remembers the House of Delegates contract vote of August 31, 2007. At that meeting, it had become clear to many observers and members of the House that the majority of the delegates were opposed to the proposed contract. Instead of letting those opposed to the contract vote "No", Marilyn Stewart simply refused to allow anyone to vote "No." Marilyn Stewart's "Parliamentarian" that night said that the refusal to allow the "No" vote was OK.

Who was the "Parliamentarian" for the infamous non-vote?

Jennifer Poltrock.

Attorney Jennifer Poltrock was serving as "Parliamentarian" at that meeting on August 31, 2007.

Instead of telling the union president that both sides of the vote on the proposed agreement had to be taken and counted, after the "Yes" votes were taken, Marilyn Stewart simply ignored calls for a "No" vote.

While Stewart refused to allow a No vote on the proposed contract that night, attorney Jennifer Poltrock was standing on the stage shouting at people who were demanding the right to vote "No."

On August 31, 2007, attorney Lawrence Poltrock (above left) berated delegates who had been protesting the refusal of the union's president to call for and count the "No" votes on the proposed contract. Meanwhile, during the meeting Poltrock's partner in the law firm of Poltrock and Poltrock, his daughter Jennifer Poltrock, had just refused to allow the count of the "No" votes, despite dozens of delegates chanting "No! No! No!" (both during the meeting and then in the halls afterwards). Above, Lawrence Poltrock argues heatedly with Roosevelt High School delegate Bill Malugen during the large protests against the quick count that interrupted the union's press conference. The press conference had been taking place in the locked room behind Poltrock until reporters pushed past CTU "Security" to see what was going on. Poltrock's law partner, Jennifer Poltrock, was returned to the CTU House of Delegates as "Parliamentarian" by Marilyn Stewart at the February 18, 2009, delegates' meeting while dozens of delegates were offended by her arrogant and inaccurate version of Roberts Rules of Order, and then set out to remind their colleagues that the Poltrocks had been instrumental in the greatest violation of Roberts Rules and union democracy in the union's 78 year history. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The infamous August 31, 2007, meeting was unprecedented in the union's history, and it took many union members some time to figure out what had happened. It was the first time the union's elected leaders had simply ignored the delegates (and Roberts Rules of Order) and asserted a contract vote without having taken the vote.

Protest drew massive media attention after union democracy was violated

The result of Stewart's illegal refusal to call for the "No" votes was a large protest outside the hall. While Marilyn Stewart and her fellow officers tried to hold a press conference downstairs at Plumber's Hall to announce that the contract had been "approved," a growing gathering of delegates who had just been denied the right to vote against the contract began assembling, chanting "No! No! No!"

Once the delegates realized that Marilyn Stewart had simply refused to count the "No" votes at the end of the House of Delegates meeting on August 31, 2007, and then left the meeting by a back door, a large protest began. Many delegates (numbering in the dozens, and by some counts more than 100) refused to leave the building and decided to go downstairs to continue protesting. Marilyn Stewart and her fellow officers, meanwhile, tried to announce to the corporate media that the contract had "passed." As Stewart spoke, a growing number of delegates gathered gathered outside the door of the room in which the press conference was being held. When their chants of "No! No! No!" became too loud, most reporters stopped listening to Marilyn Stewart's claims about what had just happened and went outside to cover the story. In the process and confusion, some learned that the union's "Parliamentarian" had told the union's elected delegates that it was legal -- even on something as important as a contract vote -- to ignore the "No" votes and simply announced that the "Yes" votes had "won." Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The result was more than a half hour of contract burning, jeers and stormy protests by angry delegates who were denied the right to vote against the current bargaining agreement. Although the agreement was approved in a referendum two weeks after the illegal House vote, many teachers and other union members at that time did not know the majority of the objections to the proposed contract, and Stewart had the union's staff working full time to bring in a "Yes" vote in the referendum. Although there are many pieces of the contract (not the least of which being its unprecedented length) to which the delegates objects, a major one obvious at this time is that the Stewart Contract has allowed the Board of Education to continued closing schools and firing teachers virtually at will. Stewart was still involved in internal squabbling one year ago when the 2008 round of closings, consolidations, phase outs, and "turnarounds" was being done by then-CEO Arne Duncan. She did not even appear at the Board of Education meeting on February 27, 2008, when the Board voted to destroy more than a dozen schools. Nor had she attended most of the "hearings" on the CEO's proposal.

You Tube video of Poltrock telling delegates they couldn't vote "No"

The meeting is documented on YouTube for the entire world to see how democracy was denied for members to vote against a contract that perpetuated the biggest attacks on veteran union teachers in the history of the union.

As a result, February 18, 2009, was for many delegates a case of "deja vu all over again."

Delegate Judy Schectman commented: “And Marilyn Stewart said we would have democracy and transparency. Right. It is the same old thing all over again.”

Ms. Schectman, disgusted with the lack of representation and job protection for the social workers that she represents, said she was eager for a clean launch to the current term of union delegates. Now she said she is afraid the current rhetoric of change and “a new movement” from Marilyn Stewart is nothing but hot air.

Shortly after the meeting was called to order, with the largest group in the House in years (including hundreds of new delegates), Marilyn Stewart said that attorney Jennifer Poltrock was going to review "Roberts Rules of Order" and serve as Parliamentarian.

Poltrock then proceeded to read a version of the rules that had been distributed to the delegates, leaving out the fact that the main point, repeated over and over again, was that the chairman of the meeting has one primary responsibility: To ensure that all sides are heard on every issue to come before the body and that democracy is honored.

Instead, Poltrock went over a version of "Roberts Rules" that was heavy on what the delegates were not supposed to do and ignored the responsibility of the chairman of the meeting to make sure that democracy and fairness ruled.

Since the infamous August 31, 2007, vote was engineered by Poltrock and Stewart, there has been a great deal of internal organizing of union members against what most now consider the sellout leadership of Marilyn Stewart. At the same time, Stewart has purged the ranks of the union's top elected officers, also in the view of many an attack on democracy. In 2008, Stewart brought charges to the union's executive board, which she controls, to get rid of Ted Dallas, the union's elected vice president.

By the November 5, 2008 House of Delegates meeting (a little over one year after the infamous "quick count" of August 31, 2007), Marilyn Stewart, with the assistance of the Poltrock law firm, had expelled Vice President Ted Dallas (above left) from the Chicago Teachers Union. Stewart had also announced that the House of Delegates did not have the authority to review the decision. When Dallas tried to enter the November 2008 meeting of the House (above), he was told not to go up the stairs to the meeting room at Chicago's Plumbers Hall by one of Marilyn Stewart's private "Security" people (above center) and one of the union's sergeants at arms (above right). Dallas had been elected vice president of the union in May 2007. His opposition to Stewart's contract and her other activities resulted in her engineering his expulsion from the union a year after the controversial August 31, 2007, vote on the proposed contract. Dallas, who had been a member of the union for more than 30 years and who had more experience as a school delegate and rank-and-file union leader than his four fellow officers combined, was told he would be arrested if he tried to attend the November 2008 meeting. Since then, he has leafleted outside the meeting but declined to add another confrontation. He is presently involved in expensive litigation concerning his ouster from elected office and union membership by Marilyn Stewart and her faction at the CTU headquarters. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Then Stewart announced that the House of Delegates had not right to review and vote on the executive board decision. After Dallas was purged from the union, Stewart tried to do the same thing to the union's elected treasurer, Linda Porter. Porter is currently still in office, but Stewart has stripped her of her duties. Whereas the union's 32,000 members elected five major officers in May 2007, at the February 2009 meeting of the new House of Delegates, only three of the officers were seated on stage.

New delegates had no way of knowing the history behind many delegates' objections to the Jennifer Poltrock announcement, although a number commented that Poltrock's presentation of Robert's Rules of Order was arrogant and offensive. The gains of the opposition groups like CSDU and CORE against the Board's attacks on job security and contract enforcement seem to be now in jeopardy with the current union leadership actively working against its own members and attempting to suffocate any dissent. Since September 2008, Stewart has unilaterally kicked out one elected officer, sidelined a second, cancelled as many House of Delegates meetings as possible, and made sure that the House is stifled in almost every attempt to restore democracy within the union.

By the time the "No! No! No1" protest was ordered outside Chicago's Plumber's Union Hall by Marilyn Stewart's security people on August 31, 2007, the media were all covering the protest and not Stewart's claim that the contract had received approval from the delegates. Delegates repeatedly noted that Marilyn Stewart -- supported by her Parliamentarian -- had refused to call or count the "No" votes. The confusion over Labor Day weekend meant that the schools would open without the threat of a strike the following week. Stewart and her staff then deployed to win the school-by-school referendum by any means necessary, and the members of the Chicago Teachers Union were inside a five-year contract that provided not contractual protection against the kinds of school closings, turnarounds, phase outs and consolidations that the Board of Education escalated six months later. As the meaning of the five-year Stewart Contract became clear, more and more delegates organized in opposition to the contract, and to Stewart's increasingly dictatorial policies. By December, Stewart was beginning the process of purging her own elected officers, including Vice President Ted Dallas, the architect of her two election victories (in 2004 and 2007). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Putting Poltrock up to dictate the rules of the House meeting is an assault on the supreme authority of the elected delegates that is specifically outlined in the union constitution. Promising to be more democratic and transparent. Two years ago, when making excuses for a loss of $8 million from the union coffers, Stewart basically used as many tricks as possible to avoid taking responsibility for her own record.

Given the magnitude of the Renaissance 2010 proposals for 2009, many delegates wondered after the February 18 Chicago Teachers Union meeting why the union leadership stifled discussion at the meeting itself and why Marilyn Stewart seemed to ramble on during her report in a way that stalled and ran out the clock, thereby blocking any real debate on the enormous issues before the union's supposed governing body, the House of Delegates. During the hearings on the proposed "Renaissance 2010" school closings, phase outs, consolidations, and "turnarounds" (a new bit of jargon at the time), Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart did not attend the hearings or speak out against the proposals that had been made. At the last minute, she convened two media events and promoted a vaguely defined "moratorium" that rested on the claim that through a program called "Fresh Start" the union should become a partner with management in getting rid of "bad teachers." Even when the Board Reports which sealed the fates of the schools were scheduled to be voted on -- at the Board of Education meeting on February 27, 2008 -- Marilyn Stewart did not attend the meeting or speak out at it. Instead, she sent the union's Recording Secretary, Mary McGuire (above, during the Board meeting of February 27, 2008). McGuire asked the Board to postpone the decision. When the Board President, Rufus Williams, refused, McGuire replied "Thank you" and returned to her seat. The Chicago Teachers Union did nothing against the closings -- including the six "turnarounds" (Copernicus, Fulton, Howe, and Morton elementary schools; and Harper and Orr high schools) over the next six months. Teachers were told to be thankful they had a "contract" and not to criticize the union leadership. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Others had already concluded that the 2009 approach to the school closings, turnarounds, phase outs and consolidations was simply more of what the union leadership had tried in 2008. In the opinion of a large number of veteran delegates, the appointment of the Parliamentarian who facilitated the most destructive violations of union democracy in CTU history indicates that Marilyn Stewart has reverted back to her autocratic control over our union -- only days after making claims on the record of a new day for union democracy. 

VIDEOS SHOWING STEWART AND POLTROCK REFUSING TO COUNT NO VOTE STILL AVAILABLE ON YOU TUBE AT THE FOLLOWING:

Video 1

Video 2

Video 3

Video 4

[John Kugler, delegate from Hyde Park Career Academy High School, has been a Substance reporter since he began covering the workings of the union leadership following the August 31, 2007, vote manipulation. He also serves as contract enforcement chair for the Coalition for a Strong Democratic Union (CSDU, at csdu.org].

Full story published at substancenews.net February 21, and February 22, 2009. Final edited version effective 2:00 p.m. February 22, 2009.

Copyright 2009 Substance, Inc. all rights reserved. For permission to reprint this story and its accompanying illustrations and photographs, please contact Substance, Inc. by e-mail or by phone at 773-725-7502.



Comments:

February 22, 2009 at 9:01 AM

By: Marricat

Retired teacher

The Union has changed a lot in the 30+ years since I first joined in 1972. During the early years, it became increasingly militant and you could count on the Union to fight for our rights. Over the years, things became better and better. Gradually, since we stopped striking, more and more rights were eroded. The last period of time since Marilyn was elected have been the worst. I don't remember any other period that teachers were yelled out for speaking out and where there was more secrecy from the leadership. The appointment of Poltrock is just one more indication that things are getting worst not better. Now, more than ever, we need a militant Union and we won't have one under Marilyn who appears to only care about herself. Teachers need to organize and take back the Union!!!!!!!!

February 22, 2009 at 12:35 PM

By: Tony Abboreno

Retired Art Teacher

I was on the floor and "I was thrown for a loop", when Marilyn Stewart did not call for a NO vote. The house in my opinion was overwhelmingly opposed to ratifying the contract proposal. It was a "Done Deal". Most comments from the floor that night were negative unless previously rehearsed by stooges. These undemocratic practices are hurting the UNION by denying the delegates the right of fair practice. The house agenda dictates the amount of time a delegate has to get his or her chance to speak. That time is co-opted by sycophants that praise Stewart. This is a dictatorship and house delegates must stand up and be heard.

February 22, 2009 at 12:38 PM

By: Lisa

CSDU

Poltrock was the leading cause of the uprising the night we voted on the contract. It was a complete nightmare and caused much "unrest" (to say the least)with the delegates. I will never forget that night! Why would Stewart ever want to bring her back for even a few minutes knowing what she did that evening? It was inexcusable!!!

February 22, 2009 at 2:59 PM

By: Bernie

CTU delegate

To my everlasting dismay, the pathetically inept Ms. Stewart seems to get away with almost anything. Missy Poltrock as a parliamentarian is no more sickening than strikebreaker Cobb as our Union lobbyist. Stewart’s painfully long, rambling, disjointed president’s report at the Feb. House meeting was so awful, it was pitiful. However, there will be no pity for her in the next election. Even the most loyal UPCers must be embarrassed.

February 23, 2009 at 3:20 PM

By: jonesie

former delegate

Other than Poltrock and Mumbles, what happened at the House meeting?

February 24, 2009 at 12:33 AM

By: Jim Vail

Don't Whitewash Dallas

Do not whitewash Mr. Dallas's culpability in this travesty. He spoke at the mic and told all the delegates this was the best contract he has seen in his 30+ years in CPS. To say he was fired for opposing the contract is a bit deceitful and leaving out important facts about who Mr. Dallas is.

February 24, 2009 at 10:32 AM

By: John Kugler

Delegate

I agree. there is not attempt on my part to make dallas an innocent participant. on of the themes within the piece is to show the undemocratic practices within our current leadership of the CTU. In using dallas what should be seen is the length to which the current administration will take when there is any dissension in their ranks. There is more to the dallas remove than is mentioned here or has been reported on.

To be clear he was targeted and removed from his elected position because he told stewart the Aug 31 vote was a mistake. Anything else dallas needs to comment on himself.

February 24, 2009 at 11:11 AM

By: by the way

Delegate + Substance Reporter

the story was edited and approved for publishing by substance. maybe a letter to the editor is warranted? unless you all are setting me up of something political? I was asked to report on the poltrock appearance at the HoD. That is what i did. anything else was edited by substance for publishing. talk to george.

jk

February 24, 2009 at 10:15 PM

By: Jim Vail

Dallas Whitewash

John - Your story was super. My complaint is really with George when he wrote his version of Dallas being fired for fighting the contract in one of the captions under the pictures. Your story stuck to the facts, and was excellent - like all your stories. Keep them coming!

February 24, 2009 at 10:20 PM

By: Jim Vail

Meaningful Discussion

George - Take this as lively discussion on the Substance blog where all meaningful CPS discussion should take place - away from the district299 blog. We need more people reading and blogging on Substance. The website looks fantastic!

February 24, 2009 at 10:47 PM

By: Kugler

Stand Down

thanks jim. for a minute there i thought we became opponents.

actually if i have time it might make a nice story to get narratives from former ctu movers and shakers to get the inside scoop on the mart. terkel style. then maybe even get other long time members to a story about what they have seen and experienced. who else is giving teachers a voice or an outlet. from my experience they fade away and in a year or two no one in the building even remembers their names. but just imagine all the things they can talk about and we can publish as a permanent history of the everyday teacher.

February 24, 2009 at 11:11 PM

By: George N. Schmidt

Editor, Substance

My feet are still thawing out from the two hours I spent on Clark St. and I'm only taking this five minute break from writing the vigil story ("Police allow six tents to protesters in front of Chicago Public Schools for overnight vigil of the 'dispossessed'") because this thread and a couple of others are going nicely.

OK, people can comment here, but this will continue to be a news service, not a blog. Those who wish to remain at District299.com will make their peace here, there or elsewhere.

But our primary purpose here will be to report news stories, edited according to a few common reporting principles (e.g., always have a source for information you are providing) -- and that will be a fundamental distinction between Substancenews.net and a blog. Most bogs are 90 percent opinion blozation and ten percent facts and reportings. Here we'll report and then allow unlimited comment.

And now I've got to get back to some breaking news. As we talk, more than 50 people, including teachers, parents, grandparents and children from two schools that were taken off Ron Huberman's Hit List -- are camping out in front of 125 S. Clark St. in preparation for tomorrow's Board of Education meeting and the ongoing protests against the tyranny of Renaissance 2010.

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