1) Who Rewrote the Chicago Teachers
Union's Hollywood Ending? Up until yesterday
afternoon, everything was going according to plan for the leadership of the
Chicago Teachers Union.
Having been saddled with a law that
required 75 percent rank-and-file approval to authorize a strike, CTU went
out and got 90 percent. The mayor, though a prominent Democrat and ally of
President Obama, was not a sympathetic figure, regardless of whether one
viewed his proposals as fair or not. The CTU president had run on a platform
of greater militancy against school reforms such as those championed by the
mayor. And, most of all, CTU was ideally positioned to present itself as the
successor to the Wisconsin protesters and Occupy demonstrators, holding the
progressive line against corporate privatizers.
The strike began with overwhelming
teacher and union support, and substantial public support - though the
latter was somewhat overstated; a 47%-39% margin at the onset of a strike is
not remarkable. Timing the strike just after payday gave CTU a two-week
window to conclude its narrative and broker a deal.
Given the stakes, once begun the strike
had to last at least until Friday. No major union wants to go through the
time and expense of organizing picket lines and rallies, plus print signs
and publications, only to toss them the next day. Apparently the district
dropped its standardized test/teacher evaluation demands very late Tuesday
night, which led to all the speculation that the strike would soon end. CTU
president Karen Lewis said of the circumstance,
"I'm smiling. I'm very happy."
Of course there were details to be
worked out, and a House of Delegates vote to be taken, but the delay just
reinforced the notion that a) no one wanted to return to school on a Friday;
and b) CTU could still hold the massive rally it had planned for Saturday.
So Sunday's vote was meant to be a way
to declare victory, and celebrate Lewis and her CORE slate as conquering
heroes. Hence the shock of everyone involved when the delegates didn't
exactly stand up and cheer en masse.
I don't have any independent accounts of
what happened during the debate, but something definitely took the air out
of Lewis and her officers. They went from "We
believe this is a good contract" to "This
is not a good deal by any stretch of the imagination" in a matter of a
few hours. Especially curious was Lewis continually referring to the
proposed agreement as "the deal that the board had" - as if no bargaining
had taken place.
Ultimately, the delegates wouldn't end
the strike without all the details spelled out in writing, and then they
wanted a chance to analyze them. Lewis emphasized that the delegates didn't
trust the district. Left unsaid was that they didn't trust Lewis and her
team to not get snookered by the district.
So what went wrong? How did this get all
jammed up at the last minute? Three forces are in play:
1) We all forgot - including me - that
Karen Lewis and her slate were elected in 2010 by less than 60 percent of
CTU members in a run-off, after she managed to unify all the opposition
against incumbent president Marilyn Stewart. By all accounts, the members
and various union factions have all been united behind Lewis during the
strike, but some fissures appeared over ending the strike.
An NBC-TV affiliate reported some infighting, but even if the story is
overblown, the House of Delegates did not meekly acquiesce to Lewis' wishes,
and that opposition had to be organized by someone.
2) Lewis said that the delegates felt
"rushed" and that many of them were not familiar with the particulars of the
agreement. That's the result of the high amount of information control
exercised by both the district and the union in contract negotiations. It's
not unreasonable for the CTU delegates to want time to examine the contract
and make an informed decision. Why then doesn't that right extend to the
voters and people of Chicago? Instead the media and the rest of the city
have to camp outside waiting for the white puff of smoke that signifies the
anointing of a new collective bargaining agreement. Every member of CTU will
get an opportunity to vote up or down on any tentative agreement. The voters
of Chicago will not get that privilege, but they will still have to pay for
3) None of the above would have mattered
if CTU had made it clear from the very beginning why it was going on strike.
The union said money wasn't the issue, and that appears to be the case. I
haven't heard anyone describe the district wage offer as inadequate and
justification for a strike. It appeared to be the teacher evaluation system,
but much of that was dictated by state law, and the district backed off its
position mid-week. Without a definite way to measure victory, everyone
involved filled in their own bubbles: Recall rights, class size, air
conditioning and textbooks were all trotted out, and then yesterday Lewis
said school closures "undergird" everything. When the proposal was placed
before the delegates, they all wanted to be sure the issue they
thought the strike was about was taken care of. All those who have been
celebrating this walkout for the past week own some responsibility for
raising expectations among the delegates and the rank-and-file over what
could be gained. Now that they see the bottom line, many were bound to be
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, not known for his
easygoing nature, was upset that all the positive stuff he heard at the end
of last week didn't amount to anything and he lost his temper. Filing for a
court order to put an end to the strike was a weak gesture at this stage of
the game, and it may have been very counterproductive as it is bound to get
the delegates up on their hind legs before the vote.
There is one final complication to
consider - as if it weren't complicated enough already. I remind you again
that no one has yet missed a paycheck (Friday the 21st is payday).
Traditionally at the end of a strike, language is worked out so that the
missed school days are made up at the end of the year so no one loses any
money - neither the district for having fewer instructional days than
required by law, nor the teachers for missing days of work. All by itself
this can become a bone of contention between the parties.
I honestly don't think anyone "wins"
this strike. Gains made by the "you can't stomp on unions!" crowd are offset
by gains made by the "you can't negotiate with those unions!" crowd. This
battle may be drawing to a close, but it looks like both sides will finish
with more ammunition than they had at the start.
2) Last Week's Intercepts.
Intercepts, covered these topics from September 11-17:
the Kind of Compromise We Would Expect. Everyone has to lose so both
sides can claim a win.
Movie Stereotypes Teachers. Hollywood and corporate distortions.
People We Haven't Heard From This Week. I forgot to add, "those who
claimed a strike was impossible" to this list.
Chicago Teacher Caught Altering Grades. On second thought...
They Can Call It "The Syndicate." Organized crime.
Quote of the Week.
"We've exercised the death penalty. We're exercising our right to say, we're
your customer and we're not buying your stuff anymore. I hope that's the
message they get." - James Perialas, interim president of the Roscommon
Teachers Association. Union members voted to end their affiliation with the
Michigan Education Association and operate as an independent local.