What’s Going On at the Chicago Teachers Union?

The city of Chicago has 32 charter schools unionized by the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (ChiACTS). The local is affiliated with AFT, but ostensibly independent from the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU).

Recently the members of ChiACTS voted to merge with CTU. While I’m sure this will have repercussions for all parties involved, it doesn’t sound like the sort of thing that would cause uproar within CTU. But it has.

Apparently the absorption of ChiACTS requires wholesale changes to CTU’s constitution and bylaws. These amendments need the approval of both the union’s House of Delegates and the rank-and-file.

On Wednesday the House of Delegates was scheduled to vote on the merger, but it failed to do so due a lack of a quorum. The union played it off as a temporary setback, blaming the absence of delegates on paperwork deadlines from the district.

Well, maybe, but it isn’t as though the vote was sprung on delegates out of the blue. The CTU leadership has been intensely lobbying for months, which would only be necessary if there were significant opposition.

CTU President Karen Lewis penned a column in support of the proposal, even trotting out the specter of the union’s arch-enemies, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner.

“CTU-ChiACTS unification is Rahm and Rauner’s worst nightmare—a united force for the benefit of our students, their parents and our school communities,” Lewis wrote. “It is fulfillment of the potential that our union’s founders envisioned, and a necessary step for the future of public education.”

Lewis’ overwrought pitch, coupled with a letter from the ChiACTS president and a series of FAQs about the merger, suggests concern, at the very least, about how well the idea is going over with the delegates.

Over at Substance News, George Schmidt reports the constitutional changes came in at 54 pages. The current constitution is 29 pages. CTU is heralded by many in the labor movement as a model for 21st century public sector unions, but Schmidt declares “the failure of the leadership to bring in the vote represents, in the eyes of many delegates, the culmination of at least two years of growing mistrust of the leadership from the union’s rank-and-file in the schools.”

I never underestimate the ability of a teacher union’s officers to get what they want from a representative body, so I believe the charter union will eventually become part of CTU. Lewis rose to power on a wave of dissatisfaction with the previous incumbents, so I’m sure she understands the importance of keeping tabs on dissenters.