Since the formation of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators in Chicago and their victory in the 2010 Chicago Teachers Union election, Chicago has been center-stage for teacher unions. CORE led the way by creating a more militant kind of teacher unionism that had been all but forgotten in most school districts around the country and certainly does not exist in New York City. The 2012 CTU strike led by CTU President Karen Lewis inspired many of us to believe that with member, parent-community support, public school teachers could regain our dignity.
CORE has been reelected twice in Chicago (in 2013 and without opposition this year) so many of us were watching with strong interest how their current contract battle would end. Many were expecting a long strike but instead there is a tentative agreement. The agreement is very controversial.
For a look at what is going on out there, read this piece from Substance Editor/retired teacher George Schmidt. George is kind of the Norm Scott of Chicago (or maybe Norm is New York's George). However, unlike Norm who has been a part of the opposition to Michael Mulgrew's majority Unity Caucus in NYC for decades, George was one of the founders of CORE who defeated their Unity style machine. It looks like George will be one of the leaders opposing the current tentative agreement.
For a more favorable look at the contract, go to of all places Socialist Worker. Even here, they are not glowing in their praise.
In the end, the city mostly caved on the so-called "pension pickup." Nothing will change for current CTU members or anyone still hired this year. Going forward, new hires will have to cover their pension contributions, as the city demanded of all teachers, but they will be compensated for the full amount with bigger paychecks.
Increases in base pay are meager, adding up to 4.5% in the final years of a four-year contract. But the union preserved the "steps and lanes" system that awards pay increases based on seniority and and educational experience. That's a further defeat for (Mayor Rahm) Emanuel, who has demanded that the union abandon steps and lanes since taking office in 2011.
This sort of reads like the material Unity puts out when they try to sell NYC teachers garbage. You know it kind of goes a little like this (warning satire alert):
Joel Klein wanted public terminations of 100 teachers a day who would be fired at high noon in front of their schools until all tenured teachers were eliminated but the Unity team stopped him. They are only firing 50 at a time and the terminations will only take place once a week. We can hold out until there is a new mayor. What a victory!
Someone sent ICE a copy of the Tentative Agreement from Chicago. The job security clause appears to be a little stronger than in 2012 but it looks as though layoffs are still a possibility. There are some gains on class sizes for the early grades. However, if I was a Chicago teacher, I would probably be screaming NO. As I am an outsider, best for me to leave it to the CTU Delegates and Members to make their decision.
This contract is important to activists around the country as Chicago had given so many of us hope for a new day for teacher unions. At the end of the day, maybe we all just become Unity Caucus, putting up futile resistance against overwhelming political forces aligned to destroy public education and teacher unions. Perhaps token defiance is all that is possible.
I'm still not convinced.