“The results are not a win. They are an indictment of the state of the relationship between the management of [Chicago Public Schools] and its largest labor force — members of the Chicago Teachers Union,’’ CTU President Karen Lewis said at a news conference.23,780 Chicago Teachers Union members voted to authorize strike.
482 voted no
out of 26,502 total membership
Total valid votes 24,262
% membership voting 91.55%
% of membership voting yes 89.73%
% of membership voting no 1.82%
# rejected/spoiled ballots 494
# of Non-voters 2,240
% of membership non-voting 8.45%
Today, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) revealed nearly 90 percent of its eligible members voted to give their labor organization the authority to call a strike should contract negotiations reach an impasse. The Union has been in negotiations with the Chicago Public School system (CPS) since November 2011. A new state law requires a 75 percent of all eligible CTU voters to vote in the affirmative in order to provide strike authorization.
Although both CTU and CPS are in the fact-finding stage of negotiations, the Union pointed out that the independent review will only provide recommendations on a small number of contract concerns. Public school educators say they are fighting for smaller class sizes, art, music, world language and physical education classes for students, and fair compensation for being asked to work under more difficult guidelines as determined by CPS.
Armed with strike authorization, teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians say they believe this will give them more leverage at the bargaining table going forward. Should a strike become necessary, the Union’s 800-member House of Delegates will set the date for a work stoppage.
Under the current union leadership, the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE), the CTU boasts an organizing model that cracks into Chicago’s teaching workforce and neighborhoods as doggedly as the city’s Democratic machine. While the city shutters, charterizes, segregates, gentrifies, intimidates, and fires, the union has created a member organizing department where one didn’t exist before, trained over 200 shop stewards, held countless public meetings and protests against school closings, and organized in hand with parents, students, community groups, and other unions—altogether, a new vision for twenty-first century teacher unionism.The three-day vote tally showed:
To its name, the caucus reached out to fellow rank-and-filers—which, in a profession dominated by contract-oriented business unions, is all too uncommon. CORE held steering committee elections, school-by-school meetings, “fun-raisers,” and study sessions on the union’s contract and school budget. The organizing paid off; in 2010, CORE swept union executive board elections and became synonymous with the CTU.
Dominance and collaboration
While CORE protested outside the “Advance Illinois” breakfast in June 2009, Arne Duncan’s homecoming party after moving from CPS to Obama’s cabinet, then-CTU president Marilyn Stewart sat inside and applauded him. As current president Karen Lewis sees it, “The problem is that management thinks that collaboration means that I tell you what to do.”
The CTU’s current unwillingness to submit to ill-advised collaboration is a promising departure from most other teachers unions. Unions in Providence, New Haven, Denver, Baltimore, and elsewhere have won serious hand-clapping from Duncan at his annual “Labor-Management Collaboration Conference,” public opinionators like Nicholas Kristof, and other wide-eyed champions of “Scandinavian-style” partnership.
Building organizing capacity, particularly in prep for potential strike, has its birth pangs. “There’s the fact that we can’t get in a time machine and organize people ten years ago for this fight,” says English teacher Kenzo Shibata. “A lot of people who we’re talking to are being talked to by the union for the first time.”
It’s the four years that rank-and-filers have been talking that must be taken seriously. Teachers unions and public education advocates hoping to resist Emanuel-style “reform” ignore the history and vision of the CORE-led CTU at their peril.