CTU members vote on strike

June 11, 2012

Mark Hannan reports on a vote on whether to authorize a strike by Chicago teachers.

UPDATE: The Chicago Teachers Union announced that nearly 90 percent of eligible members voted to give the union the authority to call a strike. The 8.45 percent of the membership that didn't vote were considered a "no" vote--so of teachers who cast a ballot, more than 98 percent voted "yes" for strike authorization.

THE CHICAGO Teachers Union (CTU) has reportedly far surpassed its legal requirement for 75 percent of members to vote to approve a strike, as negotiations over a new contract continue. An official announcement from the union is expected on Monday, June 11.

If the enthusiasm displayed by teachers at the June 7 House of Delegates meeting is any indication, the early reports of a "yes" vote are accurate. Teachers at the meeting spoke of the overwhelming positive response toward the authorizing vote, which comes in the face of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and Board of Education's disregard for the current teachers' contract.

Among the CTU members at the meeting was Marcy Hardaloupus, a 20-year teacher recently fired from Marquette Elementary School as a part of the turnaround efforts undertaken this year by the Academy of Urban School Leadership, a politically connected nonprofit with contracts to run a number of CPS schools.

Chicago Teachers Union members filled the streets of downtown during a march before the strike vote
Chicago Teachers Union members filled the streets of downtown during a march before the strike vote

Hardaloupus pointed her finger at CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard. "He doesn't want to pay us," Hardaloupus said. "He wants merit pay. My test scores are higher, but I wouldn't follow the methodology, because it hasn't been working...I taught like I've been teaching for 20 years with a superior rating. The board is playing little games."

A year ago, the Board of Education--appointed by the mayor--cancelled a previously negotiated 4 percent raise. When the CTU responded in negotiations with a compromise that would have split the 4 percent raise into two raises of 2 percent each, spread over the course of the school year, CPS refused. CPS went on to target 17 schools for closure or "turnaround."

In the latest contract talks, CPS is sticking to a proposal that offers a one-time 2 percent raise, but also includes an increase in teachers' payments for their health care, which would take back 1.8 percent of that raise. At the same time, CPS is taking advantage of new state laws to impose an extended school day and school year, which increases the workload for teachers by more than 20 percent.

CPS also wants to increase test-based evaluation of teachers and remove entire sections of the contract that protect teachers' rights. And even as it imposes a longer school day, CPS admits that it lacks the money to pay for it, claiming a budget shortfall of between $600 and $700 million.

State law prohibits the CTU from bargaining over much more than wages and benefits. But the CTU has nevertheless continued to link its struggles to the wider cause of educational justice, from opposing school closings to calling for smaller class sizes, an enriched curriculum with art and music, and increased social services.

This vision was put forward in a report put out by the CTU this winter titled The Schools Chicago's Students Deserve. The report makes clear why students and teachers deserve the funding, resources and support to make our schools the best that they can be.

But CPS has made its own goal explicit: a contract that would further burden and shortchange teachers who are already overworked and underpaid.

That's why the mood in Chicago public schools has grown ever more defiant, with teachers voicing how they feel disrespected. They cite abysmal new policies, persistent underfunding and the failure of the Chicago Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard to make it to the negotiating table even once.

THE SHOWDOWN in Chicago is at the center of the effort to make public education profitable for private interests. Key to this agenda are the tactics of weakening teacher unions and their contracts, firing or driving out experienced teachers, and installing new, lower-paid replacements.

Denise Julian, a teacher at Claremont Academy Elementary School, put it this way:

It's all about the money. They found out that they can make money on education and that's what it is. So in order to make more money, you have to get the tenured teachers out and break down the pay scale so we become at-will employees. Whatever you're going to pay is what we're going to take. And it's really about the young teachers, because 10 years from now, I'll be retiring, and they don't want you to retire. They no longer want teaching to be a profession. There's nowhere where you can retire from now.

By participating in the struggles against school closures in African American and Latino neighborhoods, the CTU has already put itself at the center of the struggle for better public education. The union also supports the growing movement for a democratically elected school board.

And while Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS will portray the CTU's strike authorization vote as an attempt to raise teachers' pay at the expense of children, fair compensation for teachers in an integral part of providing just and equitable public education for all.

The outcome of this fight will be felt nationally. The CTU's struggle is a challenge to federal policies initiated by George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind law and continued by Barack Obama.

Bush's policies put testing at the center of public education. But now Obama's Race to the Top program has provided federal grants to states that pass legislation linking teacher evaluations to those test results. Obama's plan also requires merit pay for teachers and opens the door to charter schools, nearly always nonunion ones. These measures not only hammer teachers, but also detract from learning and from the real issues affecting education success: poverty, racial inequality and insufficient resources.

In taking a stand against these attacks, Chicago's teachers have shown courage and determination in fighting for quality public education for all. Everyone who supports this goal should stand with the CTU and join them in this struggle.

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