The need to reopen schools safely is nearly universally agreed upon.
“Safely” being the operative word.
But these are uncharted waters and I don’t envy teacher unions in districts across the country as they try to represent the safety concerns of educators, students and their families.
And whatever the particulars are here in Chicago – which includes a very strained relationship between the CTU and Mayor Lightfoot going back to the last election – the issue has created difficult conversations between every teacher union and board or mayor.
Over the weekend the Mayor announced a tentative agreement with the CTU on reopening. The CTU rejected the term “tentative agreement”, although from my experience that is what it was. The executive team presented the terms to the House of Delegates which voted to send it on to the membership for a vote.
The vote of the House of Delegates was 85% to send it on to the rank and file.
Yesterday 67.5% of the voting CTU members voted to approve the agreement.
It seems to me, given the pandemic and the politics, in Chicago the process is working as it should.
Decisions made about return to school buildings must include teachers and the unions that represent us through the process of collective bargaining. It can’t just be decided on by the leaders. Those who do the teaching must have the final say.
I have seen this referred to as hyper-democratic. There’s nothing hyper democratic about members getting to decide.
It’s just plain old democracy.
Some unions only have the leaders decide. That is decidedly undemocratic.
I was frankly surprised to hear CTU leaders refer to the agreement as a disgrace after the agreement was approved by the vote of the members.
Why present an agreement for a vote that the leaders thought was a disgrace? Bargaining represents a compromise but should always be the best that the union thinks they can achieve.
I guess I am more used to having union leaders call losses wins rather than calling wins losses.
Chicago ceded significant ground to the union on a number of issues, perhaps most notably by delaying the reopening for most elementary students by a month or longer to allow more teachers and staff to get vaccinated. It also committed to weekly vaccine dose shipments, beefed up its school testing plan and gave schools more flexibility to accommodate employees who are not ready to return to school buildings.
The union made some concessions as well, backing off from a stance that all school staff are fully vaccinated before campuses reopen — a hard line some unions in California and elsewhere have continued to embrace.
Anyway, Chicago remains a union town and agreements between labor and management still must get resolved through a process of collective bargaining.
Whether it works to keep teachers, students and families safe is another matter.
I sincerely hope so.
We’ve never been here. We’ve never had to bargain in response to a global pandemic before.