Until the day I retired from teaching I was a teacher unionist.
I still support every fight for the right to collectively bargain.
Who wasn’t inspired by the Red State Teacher Strikes?
When teachers anywhere go on strike I try to report on it here.
I can’t count the number of teacher strikes around the state of Illinois where I have walked picket lines and got other retirees to do the same.
In fact, in 2012 I stood before 10,000 members of the National Education Association at their Representative Assembly and won unanimous approval on a vote to support the CTU in their fight with Rahm’s school board.
The CTU is an American Federation of Teachers affiliate. Not an NEA affiliate. And there is some history of bad blood between them.
So that’s solid solidarity.
I don’t need to know the contract offers of the union side. Most bargaining is done behind closed doors anyway.
Which is where negotiating should happen.
I’m with them.
And it’s not my contract.
The members will decide.
That’s the heart of the matter: Members deciding.
I support the Chicago Teachers Union in their present negotiations with the school board.
Mostly I was glad that they and the board were still at the table talking and bargaining.
Early on I was concerned by a number of comments coming from CTU leaders that seemed to equate Rahm and Mayor Lightfoot. Some even claimed that Lightfoot was Rahm’s third term.
I couldn’t see how that was true, but dismissed it as public relations spin.
But something Jesse Sharkey said last night made me hear my little union bird’s voice chirping on my shoulder.
“Contracts are the granular details of the way schools work,” he said.
My union bird’s voice was chirping, “nope.”
At the very least it is a one-sided conception. After all, a contract has two parties to it.
It there wasn’t a divergence of interests between labor and management, educators and boards, we wouldn’t need unions or contracts.
How “granular” do we want the rules to be for teachers?
In fact, greater autonomy for teachers in the classroom can be constrained by too many contractual rules imposed by boards.
How often have we seen that?
Contracts are constraints on both parties.
They are necessary to be sure.
But they come with a catch. We need good contract enforcement on the part of the contract we fought for.
The board will enforce, for good or bad, the parts of the contract they fought for.
Contracts are not the grain that should decide how schools work. Teachers, students, parents and the community are the grains of how schools work.
Contracts are but one part.
I recall that when the administration did something shitty to a teacher in our local I would call my IEA Uniserv Director, the staff person assigned to me as local president.
“I want to file a grievance, Oliver.”
“What part of the contract is being violated?” Oliver would ask.
And I would cite the page, section, and article.
“Hmmm. That’s kind of a stretch, Klonsky,” he would say. “I’m not sure we can win that.”
And I would say that I didn’t care. What they were doing wasn’t right and it wasn’t fair. If it went all the way to arbitration and we lost, at least they would know we had fought.
Frankly, most times it never got to arbitration. They would concede even though it wasn’t a contractual violation.
I guess my point is that eventually the CTU and the board will settle a contract. If it requires a strike, that’s part of collective bargaining too.
But teaching and learning and schools aren’t defined by the grains – the bits and pieces – of a contract.
It’s only a part of the way schools work.