Secret ballot eliminated for upcoming CTU strike vote?... At least some Chicago Teachers Union leaders plan to avoid secret ballot when the union's members are asked to vote -- again -- to 'authorize' a strike (despite the fact that the union voted to authorize a strike in December 2015)...

Will the Chicago Teachers Union be holding its first major vote in history without honoring the secret ballot rights of the union's 27,000 members? That's the question being asked by many of the union's members as the union approaches a second "strike authorization" vote as the 2016 - 2017 school year begins. The question needs to be asked on the evening of August 29, 2016, when the union's leadership holds a second "Tele Town Hall" about plans for the 2016 - 2017 school year. But the plans and some facts are beginning to dribble in.

The photo above is from the June 2012 press conference at which the officers of the Chicago Teachers Union announced that the union would be holding a three-day secret ballot vote to authorize a strike in the event that the CTU and the Board of Education did not reach a contract agreement following the expiration of the previous union contract (which expired on June 30, 2012). Left to right above: Recording Secretary Michael Brunson, President Karen Lewis, Vice President Jesse Sharkey, and Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle. In May 2016, Mayle stepped down as Financial Secretary and was replaced by Maria Moreno. The other three officers remain the same as they were in 2012. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.At the time of the first August 2016 Tele Town Hall (for delegates only), some of the union's leaders indicated that the union would not be striking until October, at the earliest, despite the fact that the union has been dragged into a second year without a contract, while the Board of Education continues to reduce jobs and freeze pay for those still active in the ranks. The previous contract expired on June 30, 2015, and since then the Board of Education has continued its attacks on the rights of union members. Among other things, the Board has frozen "lanes and steps" since last summer and laid off more than 1,500 union members in two sweeps, in early 2016 and in August 2016. The result of the CPS actions has been a growing dissatisfaction in the rank and file of the union with the strategy that seems to be endless talking while the boss does whatever he wants.

Unknown to most of the delegates at the time of the first Tele Town Hall was the fact that the union's leaders were pressuring others to recommend that for the first time in a major vote, the union dispense with the secret ballot. According to several sources within the CTU leadership (who asked to remain anonymous), the plan expected to be put forward from the leadership at the union's September 6 Executive Board and September 7 House of Delegates meetings will not only continue to postpone a strike, but will ask for a second "strike authorization vote" in addition to the one that was taken in December 2015 and which was supposedly the basis for the April 1, 2016 one-day "strike."

And the plan is that instead of a secret ballot in all schools and for all eligible voting members, this second "strike authorization vote" will be made by a form of open voting. The most likely scenario is that members will be asked to check a "Yes" or "No" on some king of question regarding a strike this semester -- at the time they sign in for school that day. The "Yes" or "No" vote will be in the open and will apparently be counted and announced at each school (and the few other locations where CTU members work).

The plan, which is still being discussed, would be the first time in CTU history when a strike vote took place without a secret ballot.

It would also be in stark contrast to the June 2012 strike authorization vote, which was done by secret ballot in all the schools (as we reported in Substance at the time) over a three-day period. The right of the union to conduct the strike authorization vote over three days was legal because the union has the power to establish its own rules for such matters. (Disclosure: I was a member of the Rules-Elections Committee of the CTU at the time and was one of those who first proposed the three-day window for the 2012 vote because of the draconian law in place then -- and still in place now). The URL for the most complete Substance story on the June 2012 strike authorization vote is§ion=Article although other stories during June 2012 also discuss the strike authorization that was done that month. Other stories regarding the planning for the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012 can be found by going through Substance BACK ISSUES, especially from May 2012 through October 2012. Additional stories about the ongoing attacks on the union and the city's public schools (especially the closing of 50 schools by the Board of Education in May and June 2013) are also available in BACK ISSUES.

The precise format for this second "strike authorization" vote will not be known until the union's officers present the Executive Board with the agenda for the September 7 House of Delegates meeting. Already the union's leaders have announced that the union will not strike on the opening day of school for students (which is September 6, 2016). Some have been claiming that union delegates and other school leaders need the time to get to know new members and further prepare for a strike, while others are claiming that union members will not be ready for a strike until they get some paychecks "under their belts."

While many issues are currently being discussed among the union's 27,000 members, another major one is just how long the rank and file are expected to wait while receiving mixed messages in the media and directly about the state of the contract and their rights. Since the September 2012 strike ended, the Board of Education (under four 'chief executive officers') has continued attacks on the union and the public schools. These included the closing of 50 schools (in May and June 2013), ongoing firing of teachers and other union members (including a suspiciously large number of local school union leaders, including delegates) and the current successful freeze on lanes and steps, which has been in effect since the summer of 2015.

Since September 2012, the 'chief executive officers' the nation's third largest school system have been Jean-Claude Brizard, Barbara Byrd Bennett, Jesse Ruiz, and Forrest Claypool. Not one of them had ever taught in a Chicago public school, yet all were appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The negotiations for CPS are being handled by the law firm headed by James Franczek.


August 29, 2016 at 2:31 PM

By: Jo-Anne Cairo

Strike vote must be secret!

There have already been trainings for the strike. There was one on August 20, 2016 at he U of I, and it was an all-day event. Teachers are not going to vote if their choice is not private! Why isn't it going to be a secret vote for the teachers?

August 29, 2016 at 7:29 PM

By: Susan Zupan

This is not "what democracy looks like"

I can only hope that there has been some form of miscommunication or confusion regarding the sources within CTU leadership who report that talks and/or plans there would ever even consider anything but a secret ballot vote for a strike.

August 30, 2016 at 11:35 AM

By: Jo-Anne Cairo

Questions not answered at 'Town Hall'

During the Town Hall Meeting on Monday night, August 29, a lot of good questions were asked. "David" asked about displaced teachers, specifically does the CTU have communication with them to help them locate jobs and face their problems... The response from the CTU was basically that the displaced teachers have to seek out union help: They have the number to call the office. Ms. Johnson wanted to know why CPS isn't hiring Cadre Subs until October. CTU compared these subs to PSRP's and clerks without really saying what the union was doing to get cadres in the schools as soon as schools open. Teresa asked about the "pilot program" for 40 schools in reference to school clerks' jobs being done at the Network offices instead of in the schools. CTU was lacking any real awareness about it. Are these examples of a secret plan, of more indidividuals losing their jobs? Why isn't the union more pro-active on behalf of the members who are being screwed?

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