Teachers split over CTU vote on one-day strike

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File photo from a Feb. 4, 2016, Chicago Teachers Union rally in downtown Chicago.

Photo by Max Herman

File photo from a Feb. 4, 2016, Chicago Teachers Union rally in downtown Chicago.

The Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates is set to vote this afternoon on whether to call a one-day walk-out on April 1 — a proposal that’s causing some division among weary rank-and-file educators who already are angry about three upcoming district-imposed furlough days.

During a conference call on Monday, union leaders responded to questions from members, some of whom said they feared for their jobs and had concerns about parent support.

Some educators told Catalyst they’re still confused about the purpose of the action and question its legality — but are resigned to support whatever the House of Delegates decides. As one North Side educator explained, “That’s what a union is, right?”

But a few teachers already are planning to break ranks and go to work even if a strike is approved.

“If school is still open, and that’s an option, then I will still walk in that day, and I will cross that line for my students,” says Lindsay Miller at Audubon Elementary in Roscoe Village, who nonetheless worries about the potential backlash from her co-workers.

Union leaders, who are pushing for a two-thirds yes vote, declined to comment for this story. A press conference is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

The union has said that a walkout would focus attention on stalled contract negotiations and the need for more education funding, just as state legislators go back to work after a month-long break.

CTU leaders also have argued that they’re allowed to strike now because the district, they contend, has engaged in unfair labor practices. CPS officials disagree and likely would file a charge with the state’s educational labor relations board if a walk-out takes place.

Meanwhile, CPS and union officials were meeting today as fact-finding continues.

During today’s Board of Education meeting, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool asked the union to focus its energy on contract negotiations instead of a potential walkout.

A tough sell

Sarah Chambers, a teacher and delegate at Saucedo Scholastic Academy in Little Village, blames the district for creating a sense of fear among teachers.

“If we’re all doing this together, we’ll be safe,” she says, echoing an argument made by CTU leaders during the Monday conference call.

A number of other union locals, including those for university faculty, transit workers and healthcare workers, plan to join the walk-out, should one occur. They want to shut down government services to protest the state’s budget impasse.

Their numbers will be bolstered by about some of the 2,000 or so union activists from across the country who will already be in Chicago for a Labor Notes conference.

Chambers called the one-day strike a good opportunity for the union to go on the offensive against the district — instead of constantly “putting out the fires. We’re going out and saying we need progressive revenue to fully fund our schools,” she says.

For years the union has called on district and city leaders to find new, sustainable revenues to support the school system — including surplus tax-increment financing dollars — instead of cutting school budgets. Schools have been hit by budget reductions and layoffs throughout the school year, as district officials struggled to close a mid-year budget gap.

Last month the district announced three furlough days for all staff, a move they say would save $30 million.

“If you don’t stand up to them, they just take and take and take,” says Michael Flynn, a longtime teacher and delegate at Otis Elementary in West Town who supports the one-day strike.

But Flynn admits it was a tough sell to his co-workers at Otis, although they eventually came on board. “I don’t think the union — and they’ve admitted this —  did a particularly good job in communicating this and rolling it out,” he says.

Mixed messages

Initially the union had called for some sort of action on April 1 to protest the district’s threat to halt the pension pickup. State law requires teachers to pay 9 percent of their salaries into their pension fund. Decades ago, the Board agreed to pick up 7 of those percentage points in lieu of granting a salary increase.

Initially, the Board planned to halt the pension pickup starting in April but subsequently put the threat on hold.  Some teachers were surprised that CTU leadership wanted to press ahead with the action anyway.

“When the other side changes what they’re doing to try to be more accommodating, then I think we need to change our strategy, too,” says Jillian Onque, a teacher at Grimes Elementary in the Clearing neighborhood. “When you see confusion at the top, there’s going to be some confusion and tension among the members.”

Onque, who says staff at her school were split over the proposed walkout, says she would probably cross a picket line and go to work next Friday if the delegates vote in favor.

Meanwhile, the uncertainty also is creating confusion for parents — who would have to find alternative care not only for April 1 but also the previous and following Fridays, when classes will be out due to furloughs and planned professional development days.

“It’s so hard for a parent that even tries to figure out what’s going on to understand who has cancelled what for what reason,” says Phil Huckelberry, a community representative on Prussing Elementary’s local school council. “The whole system is totally nuts right now.”

But Huckelberry doesn’t blame the union for causing the instability, even though he wishes the messaging around the April 1 strike was more clear.

“When you’re in the middle of an earthquake, anyone who is trying to keep the situation balanced, sometimes they’re going to succeed, sometimes they’re not going to succeed,” he says. “If they misstep in any point in time, that doesn’t mean they did something wrong. That just means you’re in the middle of an earthquake.”

  • Dusty

    Not surprising a teacher at Audobon Elementary is the one saying they will come into work. Their job at one of the wealthiest schools in the district doesnt allow them to see what I see in my far south side school. Students that have severe trauma but no nurse or psychological support. Students that should get to choose electives but cant because our budget does not allow for teachers to utilize our school’s library, swimming pool, woodshop, and ten more class rooms. Students put into online Spanish courses because we dont have the funds to hire a Spanish teacher. This teacher is an example of the real problem with the inequality in our schools; those that have it, are content with the situation.

    • Concerned CTU member

      So many assumptions regarding the woman who made the comment. She was like this last year as well when she was working in an underserved neighborhood. Just because one disagrees with the union doesn’t mean they are ignorant. I also disagree, but there is severe bullying in our union and our voices are constantly silenced. It’s actually pretty scary to be a part of it. Many people feel this way, but are afraid to stand up against it.

      • Dusty

        I am pointing out (as the HOD vote demonstrated) that most of the opposition comes from relatively well-resourced schools. I would ask this woman why she left her underserved neighborhood school? Did she feel successful there? Does she agree with those of us in the union demanding more resources to address the problems in these schools? Is her opposition just a matter of tactics or based on her own philosophy of teaching and the purpose of public education? She’s crossing the line for her students, I’m walking the line for mine and the thousands of other kids packed into schools without the support that our State can and should provide. I mean to ask her, why dont you? It’s not as simple as “its for my students.”

        • Concerned CTU member

          There are many teachers who disagree with Friday’s strike, but agree with the May strike. What will we be accomplishing? Is it even legal? In one day what will be accomplished besides putting kids out of school and teachers losing more pay? Perhaps you might understand that many teachers disagree with this, which doesn’t mean we don’t want resources for students. Mind you, Friday isn’t even about resources for students. It seems like an “in your face” act that will serve little purpose other than proving power dynamics. Let’s demonstrate the power during the actual strike rather than also having to do a mini-strike.

          • Concerned CTU member

            Also, many of the schools never even had a vote. Some did, some didn’t. Some teachers were allowed a voice whereas others were not. The data is skewed and therefore unreliable. Being a part of the union shouldn’t feel intimidating or scary. No matter your words or how logic is used in this debate, the union silences people. I feel proud of anyone willing to bring voice to an opposing and unpopular viewpoint. It takes a lot of courage, especially in this climate.

          • Dusty

            We flatly disagree that “Friday isnt about resources for students.” Here, you make the claim that it’s about power dynamics. I agree with this, its about resources for our students AND its about power. As Frederick Douglass said, “power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has, it never will” I take your point questioning the tactics and the possibility of April 1 having influence (more or less) than a May strike. In response I point out that the ILGA is back in session in April and that April 1 is opportunistic in that we have so many allies that will be out with us. To the point of “is it legal” I’d ask, does that matter? Of course I assume you endorse civil disobedience as a tactic and are unafraid of consequences. In support of this assumption I would say history proves civil disobedience to be effective, even if it is a risk, and that Claypool said on Chicago Tonight that “teachers will not be paid” and did not mention any other consequences when pressed. Of course, maybe all these words are meaningless and you are not open to deliberation at all. In your own words “no matter your words or your logic” I cant change your mind.

          • Klondike75

            Provide your evidence that some schools, meaning union members, did not have a vote.

          • Concerned CTU member

            Really? I don’t need to. I’m a teacher and we never voted. I know several schools that never voted. I rest my case here… “Provide your evidence.” This is exactly the type of thing I’m talking about. Making people feel like they are wrong or lying or uncaring because they disagree with the union. This isn’t how it is supposed to be. How about providing evidence that all members did have a chance to vote rather than trying to out a member who is already very cautious.

          • Concerned Parent

            If your CTU delegate is NOT representing your school, do something about it. It is a democratic group. You are allowed to go into a meeting yourself. I have seen the meetings with my own eyes.

          • Northside

            It is a problem, not an excuse, people NEVER go to the meetings …..but suddenly expect to be represented in times like this..but You are probably right…it should have been done with a ballot…but we did elect our reps through a ballot…so it isn’t completely unrepresentative …but its a lesson for us all to be more on top of our union..but also to participate…

          • Northside

            I am not “bullying her” . they can work if they want. I don’t believe in the whole “scab” thing or anything like. I am just pointing out that I am striking because there are SO MANY teachers who work in dirty, or violent, or under dictators, or all. I also know that the benefits we enjoy are not guaranteed and can be taken away at any time. I just get upset when people take all of this for granted. However, in no way do I mean to bully. I am just saying that so many teachers suffer and are labeled ineffective. I am striking for them. I know the kids need us. But again, when every teacher is making 40k a year with no right to refuse after hours work, or no paid Maternity leaves…I think the students will suffer from even lower morale that we have now. But I agree CTU has much to be desired. I am not happy the way they treat employees who lose their jobs. However, if you think they will just close 50 “bad” schools…it can happen to any school Walter Payton or Audobon or any school. the students need us..I agree. but my family and my fellow teachers need their jobs too. Sorry if someone thought I was bullying…I am just saying a union is to fight for ALL members…sometimes it can be inconvenient…but one day you too may need some group effort to protect you. Again, my school was very good, and very happy, but with a change in Admin…and student behavior…drop in enrollment…it is not very pleasant anymore! Think of all those teachers who lost their schools and are now treated like Lepers….it can happen to ANYONE……and we all know this…Please work if you want to…I really don’t care..I just don’t want you to go to work thinking that people are being selfish for striking…..

        • Klondike75

          Brilliant spot on response, this is it in a nutshell. Kudos.

  • Concerned Parent

    It is NOT a strike-it’s a Job Action as Claypool unilaterally decided to make staff and teachers take 3 unpaid days. He blames Rauner and punishes teachers and staff. If CTU votes for this day tonight, all members should follow and be will be joined by other union members as well as those tired Rahm and Rauner, downtown on this April day of action.

  • Concerned Parent

    Jackson, Claypool, network chiefs and the FULL education team should go into the classroom on 4/1 and cover them. (This should be EASY as there will be few students in school.) They should all have to be teachers during this negotiation time for 5 schools days in a row. Think about it: when has a chief been in a classroom all day teaching from a lesson plan they created?
    And then they tell teachers what to do!

  • Concerned Parent

    Wait wait – some chiefs and education team members, would not be allowed to teach in CPS classrooms becasue they re not qualified to do this.

  • Joe W

    It’s illegal to strike on April 1st. CTU doesn’t care about the “kids” or the teachers, only their bloated union bureaucracy. The taxpayers of Chicago would be better served with private schools.

    • Northside

      Yes Joe W. we should all follow the UNO Charter Example!!

    • Northside

      And Joe be honest were you served by “private” schools…..did your university find its funds from all private sources? Go on! Maybe we should privatize the army too??? The world tried that idea and it failed..It was called the Middle Ages!!!!aka the Dark Ages

  • Concerned Parent

    Completely disagree with Joe W. Be a CPS teacher for a week Joe. Have your pay taken away even though you have worked the hours. The message must be told that the state and Rahm are doing all they can to detract, blame and reduce a highly female dominated work force.

  • Northside

    I understand teachers are dedicated to their students, I get it. I am very frustrated with CTU many times. However, if we did not have the protection of our contract, imagine what our Principals would make us do. We would probably be working every day until 6pm and Saturday at the expense of our private lives. Many teachers don’t realize their paid maternity leaves are not guaranteed by our government. Automatic raises and decent insurance. Do these teacher think that because they “love” their students, CPS is rewarding them. If some teachers thinks they don’t need “the union” and it’s benefits….go try to work in a state or country where there is little union protection. Suburban teachers, in some districts, get 1000 a year to cover ALL of their insurance. We are all entitled to our opinions, but think very carefully what you are saying. Imagine the type of teacher you will be when you are making 40k a year with no job protection. do you think you will continue to be a pleasant teacher. Also, just because your principal and students are wonderful at Audubon, not all schools are the same. Teachers are harassed and threatened by principals and students a like. Have some compassion for you fellow worker. Just because your “situation” is very pleasant now, it could change at any moment. You could get a new principal who lowers your rating just because he doesn’t like you personally.Then try to find a job with an unsatisfactory rating. Don’t feel so safe. American workers MUST fight to keep their dignity. I know you love your students…but also think of all the benefits you have ..and how difficult your job could be if you lost your vacations, your insurance, you summer, your mandated preps, mandated hours. These are things CPS would take from your in a SECOND!!!