Saturday, September 22, 2012


People have been asking if the teachers who were on strike for seven school days in Chicago won. It is a difficult question to answer. On the one hand, in their tentative agreement teachers gained a decent salary increase; they fought off merit pay while keeping their salary steps and differentials; hundreds of laid off teachers will be rehired; and they won an appeals procedure for adverse ratings as well as an anti-administrative bullying provision.  These are solid gains that more than likely would not have happened without a fight.
On the other hand, the fundamentals of privatization/school deform were not changed. School closings can continue so teachers remain as scapegoats. The Chicago Teacher’s Union agreed to cut the time their Absent Teacher Reserves are given to find a new job in a different school from ten months to five after they are excessed because of school closings/downsizing.  Since their mayor plans on closing many schools and opening up more charter schools, many teachers could lose their jobs.  CTU did get the administration to agree that half of the new hires will come from the pool of laid off teachers who were rated highly.  In addition, the new tentative contract allows for 30% of teacher ratings to be based on student scores on standardized tests.  This is the minimum allowed by Illinois state law but rating teachers based on student test scores is junk science and the strike could not stop it. There is also no solid provision in this contract to limit class sizes.

Whether the gains in the tentative agreement outweigh the losses is still an open question.  Teachers will vote on it. What is not debatable is that the CTU organized magnificently.  They had many successful huge rallies that included teachers, parents and other friends.  Teacher morale was reported as being quite upbeat throughout and the public (particularly parents) were on the side of the teachers during the strike despite a media barrage against the union.    

As we move ahead, the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), a dissident caucus that now runs the CTU, has much more work to do to enforce the contract and attempt to stop school closings. They were seeking a moratorium on school closings. They did not get that in the contract or any side agreement but they are keeping their struggle to save schools alive in the courts and in the public arena. If their continuing mobilization makes the non-elected Chicago Board of Education think twice about closing schools, then maybe they have turned the tide in our favor.

As for impact on New York, I do not see any kind of job action like they had in Chicago taking place in NYC simply because we have the Taylor Law in New York State which prohibits strikes of public employees (people are fined two days pay for every day on strike).  More significantly, our UFT leadership would never risk automatic dues check-off, which would be forfeited if we were to go on strike.    

This does not mean we will not be influenced by what went on in Chicago.  A new activist organization called the Movement of Rank and File Educators has started in New York.  MORE is combining the forces of several groups within the UFT (including ICE) along with new activists.  The group has close ties with the CORE people from Chicago. We can hope that MORE can energize the teachers here as CORE has done in Chicago.

On the down side for New York, since the mayor of Chicago was able to reduce the time from ten months to five that teachers are given to find a new job after being placed in excess, expect the mayor of New York to push again for a similar provision here.  New York’s mayor went to the State Legislature on this issue last year but the Assembly turned him down.  Chicago may give him the impetus to push to fire more of us and start more charter schools. 

At this point, I would give CORE/CTU an A for standing up to a bullying mayor and organizing a strike that received huge parental support, but am I marking on a generous curve since the policy of closing schools, scapegoating/firing teachers and starting non unionized charter schools looks like it is as strong as ever? Only time will tell if the strike was a speed bump on the road to privatization/union busting or if this was a real turning point in labor/education history.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the CTU Solidarity Fund.  At Jamaica, we passed the hat around to raise some cash for Chicago from our depleted phasing out school. I recommend everyone do the same in their schools.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012


This morning I wanted to write an account of last week's UFT Chapter Leaders' meeting but instead I have been listening to Chicago radio, reading blogs and of course Substance for any news on the strike. I believe this is a crucial point in labor and education history.

Reviewing yesterday's post reminded me that I copied a piece that was quite critical of where the Chicago labor dispute may be heading so today we offer a different view in the form of a comment in Substance from Jessica Marshall.  Ms. Marshall doesn't think the strikers can hold out for much longer however she states that the strike should be seen as a huge victory when put into context.

By: Jessica Marshall

Strike is a tactic; not a strategy

I'm disappointed to read here, and in a different article, the idea that ending the strike and eventually even accepting the contract is tantamount to selling out. The idea put forth by George S. that we stay out on strike for weeks and weeks is irresponsible and unrealistic.
Reminder: Our strategy is to build schools that Chicago students deserve and that respects the people who work in those schools. We do this through building unity with parents, students, community, labor and others.
Our tactic was to use a strike, withholding our labor, in order to push the Board to negotiate with us and move on their position. We also used the strike to strengthen our ties with the above mentioned coalition partners.
In many ways we have been successful. Public opinion is on our side, the contract proposal defeats merit pay, limits test scores influence on our evaluation, restores language from previous contract that the board threatened to remove, adds language to provide some, though limited, hopes of job security for displaced teachers, etc.
This contract is not the contract of our dreams. However, given the balance of forces and the current political realities this is an absolute victory for our union. In other cities around the country they are taking setback after setback and merit pay and other schemes are being shoved down their throats. We have shown through the strike that we can stand up to the deformers and slow down their agenda. We've inspired educators and the labor movement around the country to stand up.
Complete victory? Nope.
Good use of the strike as a tactic? Absolutely.
Now we move forward and continue to build our coalition and fight for our kids and our members. A strike is not the only tool in our toolbox and while it is effective it can also backfire and break the unity that we have built. We do not have a union membership committed to weeks on end of strike; while some do, most of my members certainly don't have that stamina. We will not enjoy endless weeks of parent support; especially as working class parents risk their own jobs and are struggling to figure out how to care for their children. Finally, do we believe that a judge will not grant an injunction? And if he does, is our union prepared to send our leadership to jail to defy the injunction? Are our members ready for this level of action? Is this even an appropriate step to take?
This is not a game; to push for a strike for strike's sake without an accurate, objective look at the balance of forces is irresponsible at best and dangerous for our union and the unity we have built.

Monday, September 17, 2012


We here in New York have been following with fascination the events in the Chicago School strike. Unless you have been in a cave the last week, you probably know there is a teachers' strike in the windy city. The week long strike is still on as the Chicago Teachers Union Delegates voted yesterday to continue the strike while they study a proposed settlement.  Mayor Rahm Emanuel has responded by going to court to seek an injunction to end the strike. (Legally, they are only permitted to strike over wages and not working conditions.)

I am still kind of stunned by yesterday's developments in Chicago but maybe shouldn't be that surprised.  An old union adage states that the second hardest task for a union leader is to get people to go out on strike and the hardest is to convince them to go back to work.

After going through many years of top-down, leadership controlled Delegate Assemblies here in New York, I was blown away by how the Chicago delegates conducted themselves at yesterday's House of Delegates meeting.  Rather than just accepting what was put in front of them and falling for spin as would happen here in NYC, there was instead a real discussion and a vote to keep the strike going while studying the tentative agreement. Real democracy in action, wow!  Could you imagine that ever happening in the Unity Caucus controlled Delegate Assembly meetings in NYC?

While not there and in no position to dictate to these brave people what to do, I am reading Substance as my  main news source to see what is going on in Chicago.  I have copied below a great piece from Substance written by Susan Zupan which discusses the events in detail. Without an agreement on class sizes, wrap around services, testing and closing schools, the view of this CTU member is that the strike should go on. She skillfully turns these into wage issues to make it legal.  Again, what can anyone say except wow! I am sure there are others who disagree with Ms. Zupan but what is occurring out there is something to behold.

Thanks to Substance publisher George Schmidt for keeping us truly informed better than the mainstream media.  The Chicago strike has already succeeded in changing the discussion on education nationally and hopefully inspiring a larger teacher and worker movement to say, "Enough is enough and we're really not gonna take our demise lying down."  

As we move ahead, please keep in mind that the CTU  ousted their Unity type leaders twice.  Mayoral dictatorship over schools started in Chicago back in 1995.  Therefore, they are seven years ahead of NYC on the road to privatization-union busting. Their rank and file has had it with the Chicago Public Schools and they have banished their union leadership too.

They voted out their Unity style, longtime leadership group early in the mayoral dictatorship years when Debbie Lynch rose to the presidency from the opposition in 2001. Her group couldn't turn the tide and lost to their Unity style caucus when trying to get reelected in 2004.  The Caucus of Rank and File Educators started just a few years back and led by Karen Lewis, they won in 2010 in Chicago.

Opposition groups in power aren't going to get much slack from the membership in this climate if they don't stop the bleeding that is going on in urban public education (see Debbie Lynch) or unions in general.  Did CORE leadership stop the bleeding with the strike and the tentative contract?  Chicago's rank and file will have their say.

Personally, I have nothing but the deepest respect for CORE and appreciate how they were able to get a 98% yes vote for strike authorization and how they have been able to flood the streets with CTU members, parents and other supporters on multiple occasions both before and during the strike.

As for the end-game of the strike, it could be just a mere speed bump on the road to privatizing education or it could be a major turning point in history.  I sure hope and will even pray that it's the latter. 

Strike thoughts... We need to read and understand the entire contract and discuss what we have done, won, and lost

After I send this to CORE, I will probably forward a copy to each CTU member of my school's faculty and staff. Like so many other schools out there, we have been doing everything-plus-beyond-beyond possible on the front lines of this strike, the continuation of a natural thing for all of us as we work daily in CPS. We have done all that we can (and more) that has been asked of us by CTU leadership for this one week and prior and in so doing have drawn in many parents and students and neighbors.
The CTU members at my school who have gotten back to me (quite a few) have told me not to vote for a contract that I have not been able to read and digest on such short notice; in fact, on principle a few have told me to just vote NO already. They will NOT appreciate going back into the school just to read the fine print and need to start the process all over again by voting NO when it gets to them, but they will. They are willing to keep going right now, and there will be resentment if the House of Delegates votes in favor of something that goes to the membership with far less than what expectations have promised from our massive rallies and turnouts across the city.
I am speaking for myself, but I think I can state a theme for the schools on the southeast side on the whole, judging by a Friday area rally organized by Sue Garza: "ONE DAY LONGER! ONE DAY STRONGER!" I predict that the southeast side schools will NOT vote for a weak or too compromised contract and will be extremely disappointed if one is presented after all of this or somehow such a proposal actually passes for a working contract. This is an understatement.
To CORE and CTU leadership:
NOTE: I am writing this as a CTU member and delegate with zero information from a House of Delegates meeting that was supposed to be about updates to contract negotiations (of which there was little to none) with an agenda listing Q & A that had no A in the actual meeting.
It's like this. There are issues across the city that we have made catch fire via our CTU signs and chants and rallies. If we only get something for ourselves in this contract now, that will be shameful. The following must be declared by CTU to be NON-NEGOTIABLES before any contract is ratified (or even presented to the HoD): class size, wrap-around services, standardized tests, and school closures. (And we need to add small parts of the longer school day in there.) THERE IS NO DIGNITY IN WALKING BACK INTO OUR SCHOOLS WITHOUT ANY CONTRACT LANGUAGE ON THESE ISSUES over which we have rallied others out there (students, parents, community members, and strangers at gas stations in Indiana for crying out loud) to fight for with us.
Please, don't tell me these are not legal items for contract negotiation. WE CAN DO THIS. We know we won't "get everything." But we should hold strong for MORE than stopping this strike this weekend would probably get us. Ten years from now, will one or two more weeks (or more) have mattered in this fight, if you are someone who is thinking that we can't face it any more right now? "Short term pain for long term gain." Deferred gratification. That stuff we try to instill in our students on a daily basis. If this results in only "more money for the employees" then we will be seen as the hoodwinking snake oil peddlers of all time. I can hear it already: "They were only in it for themselves from the start." "Look how they only got something for themselves but nothing else for anyone else after all that." "What about 'Children First' for the CTU?"
If the contract proposal (that is, IF the Board puts into writing this last-minute, "miracle framework" no one will tell us anything about until the last minutes of a made-up make-believe unrealistic 24/7 media run deadline — much as the City Council must be run I imagine) does not include ANYTHING FOR OUR STUDENTS AND THEIR FAMILIES but it has "satisfactory" pay increases, then I suggest we try this: We change our minds and very publicly ask for at least a 200% pay increase for each teacher, PSRP, and clinician. WHY? Because although we don't really want two or three salaries for each of those of us remaining in this system, if the Board won't hire more teachers/clinicians/PRSPs, then the rest of us need to be just plain paid for working those NEEDED positions as well. (If this is supposed to be a movement, similarly exploited, overworked labor across America should hear that message from CTU right now.)
1) CLASS SIZE: IF we do not have any official lowering of class size numbers in that contract, we have shamefully reneged on our very public declaration that has become a hopeful promise to our students, and I can't walk back in with any "dignity" on that one. At Taylor Elementary School, we set up a space with craft materials on our picket line to keep all the kids occupied, and on their own they made their own signs by copying some of the CTU signs the neighbors had up near the school.
What do I tell them about their protest signs for smaller class sizes if I go back in with no Board concession on this? Lots of kids from across the city marched in our rallies wearing similar signs. So, IF CPS keeps these class sizes over 20-25, we need to demand the pay that would have gone to the other teachers research tells us the students should humanely have - so pay us for THAT since you are asking me to be an extra teacher on top of being the teacher. We will not be labeled "greedy teachers," we will be admired as "those smart teachers" getting for their students what they can get as they can get it under the dictates of that stupid 1995 law in Illinois setting up mayoral control of CPS. And we will be pointing some of this RED anger deservedly toward Springfield. We say: Hey, everybody! Here's a loophole for the 99% finally.
"We can only bargain or strike over pay..." Okay, then compensate us for being two-teachers-in-one with the class sizes we can't bargain about in Chicago.
2) WRAP-AROUND SERVICES: SAME CONCEPT. IF we do not have any official contractual language lowering case loads or increasing the numbers of clinicians in our schools (sorry, your kid can only have a meltdown from what happens on the streets on Tuesdays and Wednesdays because that's when the social worker is here), then we have further shamefully reneged on our very public declaration that has become a hopeful promise to the families we claim we want to serve so well.
So... IF CPS keeps the status quo on that, then we need to stay on strike with a demand that the pay which should be going for new clinicians now go to the remaining teachers and clinicians - so pay us for THAT since you are asking me to be a nurse, social worker, and psychologist (and every other clinician) on top of telling me to be the teacher or having one clinician do the work of 10. Thus, as a CPS teacher or clinician, I can legitimately demand and continue to strike over the expense of at least three or four salaries now.
The "public" would GET THIS.
And the 24/7 news-cycle mentality would keep the talking points of CTU's latest demands going for at least another week of public attention span interest on talk radio and the like.
3) STANDARDIZED TESTS: IF we do not stand strong against any standardized tests connected to pay and evaluation (as well as the insane proliferation level toward everything), then we have NOT CREATED A MOVEMENT which we have been told has been passed the Civil Rights' torch, because FOR THAT to be the case - bullying, wrongheaded, research-rejected, immoral pieces of crap LAW/LEGISLATION (PERA/NCLB/RttT) should not matter to us!!
A MOVEMENT should wake up SPRINGFIELD and WASHINGTON D.C. as well as a pipsqueak mayor (they can't seem to shut up) in Chicago.
Rosa Parks, and before her all the unnamed others, and the MOVEMENT that followed did not say, "Okay, thank you, we'll settle for the second seat from the back or even the middle of the bus." Someone in Chicago is TIRED? Have they been blasted with a fire hose or attacked by police dogs? In 2012 OUR CPF and CPD are cheering us on, for crying out loud! Sidebar: As I was marshalling, one female cop confessed that she was worried about their contract negotiations, and they were watching us. I told her, then maybe after we got our own contract, we could go before and after work from our schools to our neighborhood police stations in CTU RED and chant "CTU! CPD!" and support her. (Cops can't legally strike.) We both got a total kick out of that picture. (I am anti-brutality but not anti-cop; think about how much of what they have to deal with at the ends in the street is because of how all our hands in the schools are so tied and unfunded at the beginnings in the schools?)
But, hey, let's just otherwise change the chant WE STARTED across the city. Take: OUR STUDENTS - ARE MORE - THAN JUST A TEST SCORE! And just replace it with: OUR STUDENTS' - TEST SCORES - are just going to be, oh, let me see, I don't know, something like 25% of our evaluations, but look, this is a really good thing because the law mandates it and the board put it higher. (Yeah! GO! forward with THAT chant and watch a movement continue.)
4) RECALL/School Closures: What good is recall if they close so many schools there are no neighborhood public school positions to apply for or we compete like starving dogs for a bone over the few left? What's the plan for that? (Another discussion... hopefully NOT with Randi.)
5) LSD (Longer School Day): In the elementary schools we need to keep what we had. The LSD broke what was working with that small but solid block of prep time in the AM so that our parents are able to meet with teachers when they arrive with the children. This keeps the atmosphere of an elementary school very connected to the students' homes. I thought that was what was wanted. This is impossible now.
We also need a solid block of prep time in the AM so that we can meet with one another as a PreK thru 8th grade faculty as needs be for whole group or for individual meetings and consultations. This keeps us together as a whole. I thought that was what was wanted. This is impossible now.
CLUE: It is NOT HIGH SCHOOL in the elementary schools! (The high schools, I hear, do not like that 14 extra minutes than the elementary schools - that differentiates us, meaning it SPLITS US APART.)
REAL "HOPE AND CHANGE" FOR THE DEMOCRATS: Right now I have never seen the Democrats with their feet more to the fire than by all of the symbolic not-gonna-take-it, healthy channeling of blood red anger on the streets of Chicago. We cannot pull back on that. Or do we now change that chant to: "We're gonna keep on taking it! YEAH!"?
If we keep the pressure up, it can work to PUSH them BACK into what some of us still hope for when s/he continues to vote while holding his/her nose from Chicago to Springfield to everywhere else coast-to-coast with this freakin' cowardly-ass political party that has forgotten that LABOR IS ONE OF ITS MOST IMPORTANT BASES! What BREAK have WE been given? We have been pressured to the point of snapping into broken pieces by these guys. Arne Duncan has been in charge of the nation's educational system FOR FOUR FULL YEARS with these guys, come on!?! Don't feel sorry for any freakin' pressure or embarrassment we're putting on them right now. THEY EARNED IT! Make them BE what anyone left keeps wishing for every time s/he votes! No more memories, make them BE what they actually USED TO be.
I am going to try to not call anything contract-wise at any point a "sell-out" contract. We've all worked way too hard to use that term, even though others will totally use the term.
I think the fighters the union needs (and has right now) across the city will vote against such a contract and then vote CORE right out of office over the issues I addressed above and more. However, the words "settled for less than what we could have gotten" are not acceptable in any way. If we weren't so strong out there, yeah maybe. But we are strong on the membership end. Let's make this movement push to its fullest POTENTIAL.
When CORE was started, as it grew, sessions were held to study those things that sank (sunk?) previous union leaderships, and the caucus has tried hard, I think, to guard against them. As for preventing "rock star status" for the leaders, I think that is near impossible under the present circumstances(!). But also for those in other CTU positions of great influence and power in negotiations, I (of little to no information right now) would please ask you to use your status to fight for having MORE THAN employee-related, money-related issues in our next contract. And I apologize if that is not the case at all in this framework we'll see tomorrow. I am not just speaking for myself, I am expressing the sentiments I'm absorbing from "the Chicago Street," a street you helped create, yet this process is cutting you off from it in these somehow always down-to-the-wire, all-night negotiations that generally result in our side losing more than winning.
Here is one thing I think we didn't really discuss in those back-when prevention sessions, and I don't want it to sink us now, as I have witnessed it sinking everything for our side in the political (ugly but necessary) sausage-making process for many years now both locally and nationally. Our sisters and brothers representing us on the negotiating teams have been at it passionately since freakin' last November (or the last century, I forget). But I/we turn on the radio and we get to hear some Barbara Whoever speaking for the Board, telling the city of Chicago that "we need to get our children back in their classrooms." So, I ask: Who the *bleep* is SHE and how long has SHE been at this? Then, I find out that she just got here from DETROIT. (