Aspira charter teachers recently settled a contract.
When CTU President Karen Lewis and former CTU leader – now Chicago alderman – Sue Sadlowski Garza appeared on our radio show, Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers, the conversation inevitably turned to the current upsurge in charter union drives and collective bargaining.
Noble, Aspira and UNO are the three huge charter school chains in our city.
Yesterday, when I wrote about the CTU proposal that its members work to the clock until the funding issue gets seriously addressed by the Mayor, the school board and the Governor, it provoked some discussion about the tension between teachers as professionals and teachers as union members.
As a teacher union leader, I accepted that there was this tension.
We would work stuff out with the board and administration through conversation.
Or we would make it an issue for bargaining.
I tended to want things written down so there was no misunderstanding or confusion about what we agreed to.
It was different with the school board and administration.
I pointed out yesterday that it seemed that whenever we in the union talked about treating teachers as professionals, the board would talk about the contract and when we talked about enforcement of the contract the board would say we should be professionals.
That is, as is popular to say these days, a distraction.
Teachers in districts with a union earn more and have better benefits than teachers without one . That is not a alternative fact. There is a reason. There is power in a union.
Handshakes and promises are not the same as legally enforceable contracts.
But it is more than about the money.
Bargaining salary and benefits can be easy or hard, contentious or not. One year we walked out over health care costs to families. Most years we sent offers and counter offers back and forth a bunch of times until we came to something both sides could live with.
However, bargaining dollars took the least amount of time.
I said to Karen Lewis on our show that I never understood why we had to spend time bargaining over collaborative planning time, something that was good for teachers and students and meant improving the quality of instruction.
“That’s because they don’t know what you do, Fred,” Karen said in a tone of a teacher explaining the basic concepts of chemistry to one of her less than stellar students.
That is why we did spend hours – no years – bargaining collaborative planning time and the role of teacher instructional leadership
So, we do have to bargain professionalism. There are a couple of pages in a collective bargaining agreement about compensation and a whole bunch of pages about teaching conditions, which are learning conditions.
And I can assure you that over the years we have spent far more time bargaining those than we did bargaining money.
My message to charter teachers is that you need a union for way more reasons than the money.
Although the money too.