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June 14, 2010

1) Is Chicago the Flip Side of DC? Once again, EIA finds itself in the role of wet blanket, smothering the fiery claims of those who want the events in a single district to be replicated everywhere else. Last week I tried to douse the enthusiasm of the reform crowd who saw the DC teachers' contract as a harbinger of the future for other troubled urban districts.

This week, it's the turn of the old guard unionists who think the results of the Chicago Teachers Union leadership vote is a portent of a new wave of militancy from teachers, in reaction to the recent beatings public employees' unions are taking in press and public opinion.

The Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) united other opposition groups and achieved victory for presidential candidate Karen Lewis and her slate. Lewis defeated incumbent president Marilyn Stewart by a 3 to 2 margin.

First, let's not deny the obvious. CORE did campaign on taking a harder line against the district administration, and that's how it won. In fact, that's the only way an opposition slate ever wins a union election, particularly in the AFT.

Few remember now that Stewart won election to the CTU presidency in 2004 by criticizing incumbent Deborah Lynch for being insufficiently protective of teachers' interests. "This is a labor union, not a university," Stewart famously said. Stewart promised to focus the union on contract enforcement and filing grievances.

Stewart was criticized for jumping on the protest bandwagon too late - only rallying against layoffs and budget cuts when it became clear her own reelection was in doubt. In 2004, that criticism was also leveled against Lynch (see item #5, here) who faced Stewart in a runoff after layoff notices were sent to 2,180 teachers and 1,300 support personnel. Lynch appeared at a media event to protest the layoffs during the runoff campaign.

Lewis's election may have large implications for the Chicago Public Schools. Her politics are significantly to the left of the machine Democrats who run the city and the school system. "What drives school reform is a single focus on profit. Profit. Not teaching, not learning, profit," she said in her post-election press conference.

Nevertheless, she may find her platform difficult to implement. It includes repealing mayoral control, stopping school closings and reconstitutions, and bargaining class size. But those will be easy compared to her plan to "cap CTU officer and staff salaries to the average teacher salary prorated over 12 months."

She may get her way with the officers, but the staffers are represented by the Teamsters, and their contractually guaranteed minimum base salary for next year is $101,517.80. So good luck with that.

Lewis could reverse the trend of outsiders becoming insiders, but history isn't on her side. The last "next big thing" was A.J. Duffy in Los Angeles. He survived his reelection challenge, but was also criticized for too much compromising. A lot of same kinds of internal reforms Lewis proposes were instituted in Miami after the Tornillo scandal. It's hard to argue that any of this led to a mass movement for teachers' unions - in either direction.

2) Current and Former Union Staffers Worried About Their Pensions. Last week, EIA reported on how NEA and its state affiliates were seeking Congressional help in covering their staff pension liabilities. The irony of unions worried about funding their retirement obligations for employees isn't lost on the employees themselves. They are putting the skills of their chosen career field - organizing, advocating and protesting - to use in an effort to protect their benefits.

NEA state affiliate staff unions across the country are accusing teacher union managers of trying to eliminate defined benefit plans. True or not, it is an explosive charge because NEA and its affiliates consider any change to defined benefit plans for public employees non-negotiable.

On Saturday, the Retired Employees Association of the California Teachers Association (REACTA) distributed pamphlets to CTA State Council representatives describing the plight of long-retired CTA staffers.

"Retirees do not have a collective bargaining agreement and are victims of the capricious determinations of the CTA Board," the organization stated in a press release. REACTA is seeking improved benefits for staffers who retired prior to 1989 and claims they have not received a cost-of-living increase in 10 years.

As the teachers' union learned in Ohio, retired staffers are still a potent force and can bring significant pressure to bear.

3) Last Week's Intercepts. EIA's blog, Intercepts, covered these topics from June 7-14:

*  99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall. Stop the teacher layoffs before they disappear.

Cradle to Grave Employment and Beyond? Warm body no longer necessary.

The End of an Error. Pontiac v. Spellings, R.I.P.

California Education Policy in a Nutshell. Something doesn't add up.

Never Underestimate the California Teachers Association. Empty suit with union backing beats touted and well-financed reformer.

4) Quote of the Week. "The face of labor today is now public employee unions whose wages and benefits largely outstrip those of average Americans." - an unidentified "consultant to major unions." (June 6 Politico)


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