2014 drawing by Fred Klonsky.
-By Jesse Sharkey (from his Facebook page).
The Chicago Tribune is comparing the CTU’s strike vote to some of the most undemocratic regimes in the world. What I find enraging here is that the CTU is held to a ridiculously high standard for voting on a strike (75% of entire membership must vote in affirmative.) Think about that: an 80% yes vote on an 80% turnout would still fail. But the CTU is not credited for meeting a democratic standard which virtually no elected official could meet. We are condemned. The appointed Board of Ed is not compared to North Korea and castigated for stalling negotiations for 22 months while their unelected members slash public schools. The Tribune’s attack on our vote-by-petition reveals how deeply they despise our power and voice.
Why do a vote by petition? Because our original vote (in December) is being challenged by Rauner’s appointed Labor Board and the CTU’s (elected) executive board and the CTU’s (elected) House of Delegates voted to approve this procedure. We also want to ensure our members talk to the newly hired teachers in our building.
Our original vote took over a month to plan–and was held on three successive days. It required printing three sets of ballots, ballot envelopes, three ballot boxes, three sets of ballot seals, three sets of voter lists, and delivering and picking up the materials from 550 worksites by courier three times. The whole procedure cost well over $100,000 and literally thousands of hours of volunteer time on the part of hundreds of rank and file CTU members.
When we started considering a re-vote just weeks into the school year we considered that unions typically hold strike votes in a members-only meeting and take a standing vote on the spot. It’s not that the voting is public–votes are shared with neither the boss nor with non-members. But the matter is shared among union members at a workplace. This is a reasonable way to approach the decision about a strike–and one that the union movement has used for over a hundred years.
Our members-only voting requires that we talk to each other, respect each others opinions at work, and take important decisions as a group.
Consider how much work it requires to maintain the level of participatory democracy the CTU exhibits. Elected officers work at the union office and get most media attention but consider that an elected Executive Board steers the organization while working full time in schools, 800 elected delegates conduct union meetings, meet regularly as our House of Delegates and are the face of the union in 550 worksites, and thousands of members participate in CTU events, read and stay informed, argue, and will ultimately approve or reject a contract (not to mention authorize or not authorize a strike.)
Not only do I think the CTU is most democratic union in the country, I think its the most democratic institution in the City of Chicago. It’s possible that the Tribune attacks the CTU because they do not understand what we really do–which is a bit pitiful considering how much time they spend fulminating about us. But I suspect the real reason The Tribune voices disdain for our workplace democracy is precisely because that democracy leads to a more active and combative union and that is hat they truly fear and despise.