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Could Chicago Teachers Union win more?

By Jesse Sharkey, CTU delegate | October 3, 2003 | Page 11

CHICAGO--The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU)'s reform leadership announced a tentative agreement last week for a five year contract, calling it a "significant gain for our members." The deal includes a 4 percent raise in each year as well as a number of other advances such as job protection and additional pay increases for Educational Support Personnel (teachers aides, clerks, etc,) an expanded leave policy, and pension improvements.

However, the proposed contract has drawn significant criticism as it lengthens the workday and includes an increase in health insurance costs. In addition, the union failed to win two key bargaining demands--meaningful improvement in class size, and a daily preparation period for elementary school teachers.

It took leadership three hours of discussion to convince its own Proactive Chicago Teachers (PACT) caucus about the merits of the deal with several delegates voicing concerns about the contract but then giving it 'critical support.' This followed Lynch's September 25 letter to union delegates, which stated, "a 'no vote' does not mean that we simply go back and keep negotiating with the board for a 'better deal.' Rather a 'no vote' on the contract is a 'yes vote' for a work stoppage."

In fact, the argument that a "no" vote equals "strike" is an opinion, not a matter of law. We have the right to vote this deal down and send our leadership back to the table.

We should do it--and conduct the kind of contract campaign that we so far failed to do--with member involvement and education, rallies and pickets. In fact, our union's "mobilization committee" hasn't met since May. Yet now we are told we have to accept the contract because we're not ready to strike!

If approved, this contract would push the union further down the road of labor-management "cooperation" with joint school management and more. Now there is a danger that the old guard United Progressive Caucus (UPC) could win back leadership of the union in the spring.

The UPC is calling for a "no" vote for purely demagogic reasons--they are hoping CTU members forget that they ran the union like a private savings account. What we need is contract fight based on building union power through an active, rank-and-file membership--starting with this contract.

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