NOTE:
You've come to an old part of SW Online. We're still moving this and other older stories into our new format. In the meanwhile, click here to go to the current home page.








Why did Chicago teachers accept weak deal?

By Jesse Sharkey, CTU Delegate | December 5, 2003 | Page 10

CHICAGO--By a vote of 15,289 to 12,786 the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) approved a new contract November 18, ending the threat of a strike. The new deal--the second tentative offer brought back to the membership--offered small improvements over the previous tentative agreement, which proved enough to win narrow passage.

For example, in addition to the previously offered 4 percent raises, the new contract grants veteran teachers an extra two sick days a year and provides elementary teachers with an extra prep period. Union leadership touted these gains as a victory, saying in a statement, "With your strength we went back to the table and we came home victorious." But most members see the contract as a settlement intended to avoid a fight--perhaps not an outright defeat, but certainly not a "victory" either.

The contract delivers a blow to teachers on healthcare. Some members will pay an extra $1,600 per year to keep their current benefits.

Nor were the longstanding frustrations with poor working conditions and inequality with the suburbs addressed. The contract allocates $2 million--enough for just eight teachers to reduce class size.

Many of the "yes" votes came from members who calculated that with an unwilling leadership and a split membership, the time wasn't right to strike. Nevertheless, 46 percent of the union voted "no."

Those members are disappointed about how CTU President Deborah Lynch, who was elected as a reformer--handled the contract campaign. Fallout from the contract fight will dominate the union as it heads into a leadership election in May. But this puts many activists in a difficult position.

With the old guard poised to retake control of the union, many see Pro-Active Teachers Caucus (PACT), which supports Lynch, as the only vehicle for steering the union in the right direction. But PACT has become a personal vehicle for Lynch. Lynch herself operates self-consciously along the model of Al Shanker--the 1960s business union leader of the American Federation of Teachers, the CTU's parent union.

For rank-and-file activists, the question raised by the contract campaign of 2003 must center on how to form a network of union members who can discuss strategy and act independently of the leadership when necessary. Had such a network existed, it might well have forced a rejection of the second agreement. The connections many delegates made during the past several months provides the best opportunity to form such a network in years.

Home page | Current storylist | Back to the top