Reform victory in the CTU

November 2, 2009

CHICAGO--Candidates of a rank-and-file union reform group won the two slots up for election in an October 30 vote for trustees of the Chicago Teacher Pension Fund.

Jay Rehak, a teacher at Whitney Young High School, and Lois Ashford, a teacher at O'Keefe Elementary, were elected trustees to oversee the pension fund's $8 billion in assets. Both are members of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) in the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU).

The election was particularly significant because pension trustees will have to play an increasingly active role in defending the retirement fund. The fund has been specifically targeted by Ron Huberman, the new CEO of Chicago Public Schools, and many teachers fear their pension is threatened. Huberman slashed pensions at the Chicago Transit Authority when he was appointed to run that agency in 2007--he raised the retirement age by 10 years.

The pension trustees election is also significant as an indicator of the popularity of the main groups vying for control of the union.

The CORE candidates beat out Nancy Williams and Reina Otero, of the current union leadership's United Progressive Caucus (UPC). Rose Mary Finnegan, who was running with former union President Deborah Lynch's ProActive Chicago Teachers (PACT) caucus, came in fifth.

UPC and PACT have been locked in a battle since Lynch was defeated by Marilyn Stewart in 2004. Last year, the conflict exploded into a bitter feud over Stewart's attempt to fire a union vice president, Ted Dallas, which spilled over into the courts and onto the front pages of Chicago newspapers.

CORE, meanwhile, has been able to build its ranks, especially during a battle last winter against school officials' plans--drawn up by then-Chicago Schools CEO Arne Duncan, who now serves as Barack Obama's education secretary--to close 16 schools. By uniting with several community groups and a more active union leadership, CORE helped build several strong demonstrations that pressured the board into giving reprieves to six schools on the original hit list.

Now, CORE's success in the pension trustees vote signals that it could do well in elections for the leadership of the CTU, to be held in May.

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