CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey on the CTU strike vote.


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.

10 Replies to “CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey on the CTU strike vote.”

  1. The issue here is by making the teachers have to disclose their name and vote.

    The peer pressure can cause a member to vote other than they would actually choose to avoid consternation from co-workers. It also can provide divides in the work place.

    It’s tactics like this that concern me greatly… It’s not necessary unless you are concerned the vote won’t go your way and are using it as a strategy to pressure more votes in favor of a strike. Which sadly may not properly represent the actual opinion of some union members.

      1. We’ll have to agree to disagree…

        I see in no way how this his post addresses my concern. I am all in favor in debate and discussion among the members that’s great. The members should still be able to submit their vote without concern of alienating themselves at their own work place. I also think it is healthier for the work place environment in general.

        To rationalize having to have the members names and votes exposed for logistics or financial reasons is ridiculous.

        I think people need to be honest here. It is a tactic to pressure members to vote their way. To not believe this is either to be naive or deceptive.

      2. Fred,

        While I do think that this is what’s happening here I am always aware I may be missing some information or insight.

        These days I think that is a big issue in many cases there is more than one ” right ” answer to an issue. Sadly many have picked sides and are unwilling to yield, compromise or look openly at both sides. This is only deepened by the fact many only seek out information on so called news sites or blogs that share their view points. Sorry, I Tangent…

        Look, I am keenly aware I am not the Oracle… I just believe that members should be able to vote anonymously for the reasons stated previously.

        I also believe the reason they are being required to put a name to their vote is to pressure them into voting a certain way.

        It is only an opinion by someone who refers to himself as BIGFOOT. Haha

  2. It seems fair to me that if our original pension compensation (due from the board) was re-routed for other areas deemed more important, that money from the present-day TIF’s should get re-routed to the current pension fund and its needs.

  3. “Why vote by petition? Because the original vote (in December) is being challenged by Rauner’s appointed Labor Board”

    Remember how all this started? (The 75% strike threshold) How dare teachers actually overcome a rule created with the intention of making it impossible for teachers to EVER strike! (per Mr. Edelman’s boast)

    The original strike vote WAS conducted secretly. The legitimacy of that vote was questioned because of it’s secrecy (as a way to discredit the results).

    Those trying to discredit the strike vote demanded “proof” of the vote results. The petitions provide that proof. “Bigfoot” wants to criticize the union for a process forced upon it by the Labor Board. The process is portrayed as a coercive measure forced upon a possibly reluctant membership by the union.

    Bigfoot’s complaints ignore the following facts:
    1. The Labor Board forced the process, not the union.
    2. The membership is not “reluctant” to strike.
    3. The C.T.U. rises to a standard of democracy that virtually no other elected leadership is held to.
    4. Mr. Edelman’s “impossible” barrier to a strike fails again.

    The first strike vote was called illegitimate because it was “secret”. Now it is questioned because it was not “secret”. The union is criticized for following the demands of the Labor Board. Bigfoot Chicago has got to be kidding. Blame the victims much?

    The union is making it very clear that the vast majority of it’s membership has had enough and will strike. Clear enough now?

    1. Hi Hugh,

      How am I victim blaming?

      I am only disputing the fact that the members have to make a public vote.

      I say this as someone who represents a vote and does in fact feel pressured by having to have the vote be known by co-workers.

      Amazing how that specific point is avoided. Which is the point of discussion.

  4. Here is how you are “victim blaming”. You are blaming the union for a process that was forced upon the union when the Labor Board questioned the strike authorization vote. The labor board is responsible for your situation, not the union.

    The “secret” vote to strike was held in December. Did you speak up then? Or was it easier to let others express their views while you remained quiet? Now it is September and the strike is about to be called.

    Public voting is now necessary because of the Labor Board complaint. Some union members may feel uncomfortable because they now must publicly pick a side. That was the whole intent of the Labor Board challenge. To make some union members feel like you do and weaken the union’s solidarity. Crunch time has arrived. No one is anonymous on a picket line.

    Personally, you have to choose. Do you support the strike? If you don’t, say so. Resign from the union, if you must. Don’t let silence be misinterpreted as agreement. You are for the strike, or you are not.

    Don’t blame the union for the “petition” vote when the Labor board was the one demanding proof of voting results. Feel pressured by how your colleagues might respond if they know you don’t support them? Choices do have consequences.

    Personally, having been on strike myself, I think they deserve to know where you stand.

    Which side are you on?

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