Jesse Sharkey: Has the mayor ever offered any revenue plan that does not involve cutting worker benefits?

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Karen Lewis and Jesse Sharkey.

Letter to the Editor of the Chicago Sun-Times by CTU VP Jesse Sharkey

The Chicago Sun Times in an editorial recently criticized teachers, nurses, library assistants and truck drivers for suing the city to retrieve drastic pension cuts imposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Earlier this year, the mayor pushed for a bill to cut pension benefits by nearly 30 percent on city workers in the Municipal Employees and Annuity and Benefits Fund (MEABF) by lowering, and in some years eliminating, cost of living adjustments and increasing the amount that employees must contribute to their pensions. Many retired workers in the MEABF survive on modest benefits, an average of about $30,000 per year, that allow them to barely make ends meet.

One of the Chicago Teachers Union’s members covered by the plan is Arlene Williams, a former vision and hearing aide who is already paying nearly $1,000 in out-of-pocket monthly health costs, and stands to lose an additional $1,000 a year because of the new law. Arlene worries she may lose her home if she sees any further reduction in benefits. In an economy where rising costs and inflation are imminent, the future diminished retirement security for countless public servants, is all but inevitable. Instead of reducing the incomes of the most vulnerable workers in the city, the mayor could advocate for pensions for all workers. There are multiple ways to do this, and the Sun Times only offered a few.

The La Salle Street Tax could easily bring over $1 billion a year into city coffers, not to mention a graduated “fair” income tax at the state level, an end to toxic swaps, and reform of the city’s notorious TIF program. Has the mayor ever offered any revenue plan that does not involve cutting worker benefits, raking tax payers over the coals with red-light cameras, cellphone fees and the like? Perhaps it’s time for some real “shared sacrifice”  where the mayor’s friends at Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Loop Capital give back some of the record profits they have reaped from the schools and the city. Tax fairness would allow retirees to enjoy a modicum of comfort in their golden years after a lifetime of service.

Jesse Sharkey, Chicago Teachers Union Vice President

The solution to the problem of the CTU bargaining with the Mayor is the Mayor getting out of the the school-running business.

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DFER Illinois’ Rebecca Nieves-Huffman. Photo: Substance.

What is the deal with telling Karen Lewis that she should step down from being head of the Chicago Teachers Union?

Not CTU members who last year voted her another term by a huge margin.

But the Wall Street hedge fund managers of Democrats for Education Reform.

I remember a few years back when the Tribune’s Eric Zorn said she should resign.

Now it is DFER-IL State Director Rebeca Nieves-Huffman.

Damn. Let us pick our own leaders.

DFER is a national group funded by the hedge fund manager wing of the Democratic Party. They are the ones who pushed Obama to appoint Arne Duncan over Linda Darling-Hammond. They are the big money behind charters, vouchers and all other sub-categories of corporate reform.

Nieves-Huffman says that since it is all but official that Karen Lewis is running against their pal Rahm Emanuel for mayor, it is a conflict of interest to run and be president of the teachers union.

“With a $40,000 contribution to her mayoral campaign, President Lewis has made it clear she is running for mayor, but she has also said that she will force negotiations over a new teachers contract this year,” DFER-IL State Director Rebeca Nieves-Huffman said in a statement. “Doing both would present nothing short of a conflict of interest. Chicagoans won’t know whether President Lewis is representing her members, her political interests, or if she’d use the negotiations merely as an extension of her campaign. If Karen Lewis truly cares about representing the interests of all Chicagoans, she should step down from her role as head of the CTU as she pursues a campaign for mayor.”

Of course, this is just Nieves-Huffman fronting a dance for the Mayor.

But let’s take the suggestion seriously for a moment.

It seems to me that it is DFER, Nieves-Huffman and the Mayor who have a conflict of interest.

Their interests conflict with democracy.

They don’t want us to decide who our leaders are.

They don’t think union elections should count.

And they don’t think we should choose our own school board.

Chicago is the only place in Illinois that doesn’t elect its school board.

In Chicago the mayor runs it.

And he has made a mess of it.

The solution to the problem of the CTU bargaining with the Mayor is the Mayor getting out of the school-running business.

It is always very weird to me that we can elect members of the Metropolitan Water District, the people who clean our water, but not members of our board of education.

But this is Chicago.

DFER and their hedge fund manager funders want to tell teachers who their president should be.

And the Mayor gets to tell us who are school board members must be.

CTU endorses Quinn.

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News that the CTU House of Delegates endorsed Pat Quinn for Governor over the Napa wine connoisseur comes as no great surprise.

I will not vote for either one.

However, the CTU endorsement certainly reflects the views of most Chicago teachers. In that regard, the Rauner panic-machine has been very effective.

Although I am not a member of the CTU and I am certainly not privy to their internal discussions, the overwhelming vote by the HOD in favor of this endorsement does not suggest some back-door deal.

Nor does it suggest that President Karen Lewis is “in the pocket of the Democratic Machine,” a ridiculous assertion I heard someone make.

How is this different from Quinn’s endorsement by the state’s union leadership?

Here’s how.

For the longest time we have asked our state leadership to create a working families, pro-union electoral alternative to Quinn. Instead they accepted the status quo, spending millions of dollars on a futile attempt to elect the Illinois Chairman of ALEC as the Republican gubernatorial nominee. When that bit of political opportunism failed, they endorsed the current pension thief.

More importantly, there is no sign that the union leadership at the state level has any plan or vision for something different. Only a change in leadership will change that situation.

It is at the Region level that some of us kept our promise and voted not to recommend any pension thieves.

In Chicago we are seeing something quite different.

In Chicago we have a strategy to change the political landscape of the city with aldermanic challenges to get-along incumbents, support for members of the Progressive Caucus and a challenge to the sitting mayor by Karen Lewis and possibly Bob Fioretti.

Is the gubernatorial endorsement part of that changing landscape?

No.

However, nothing should keep us from being diverted from our efforts to unseat the current mayor and create an ongoing progressive alternative to the Democratic Machine.

Even if we wished for different choices in the Governor’s race.

Statement by CTU on the 1,150 CPS teacher and staff layoffs.

CHICAGO—Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis released the following statement regarding today’s announcement of 1,150 teacher and school support staff layoffs by Chicago Public Schools (CPS):

“The decision by the mayor and his handpicked Board of Education to lay off 1,150 teachers and school support staff today in yet another brutal attack on public education in Chicago is bitterly disappointing and an example of the continued destruction and decimation of neighborhood schools. In a little over a year, CPS student-based budgeting has led to the removal of close to 5,000 teachers, teacher assistants, librarians, paraprofessionals and school-related personnel (PSRPs), technology coordinators and instructional aides from classrooms as severe cuts cause principals to make the difficult decisions that the district cannot. This loss of teachers and staff will directly impact the quality of instruction offered in our schools, and is unnecessary and shameful for a district that claims to provide a high-quality education for its students.

“With this latest round of layoffs— the fourth time in the past five years in which we have seen summer layoffs in excess of 1,000—and the hundreds of positions lost at the three schools slated for turnaround this year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his Board continue their war on our educators by doing nothing to salvage school budgets other than forcing principals to terminate valued teachers and staff.

“Of the 1,150 layoffs announced today, 550 are teachers and 600 are Educational Support Personnel (ESP). Approximately 250 of these ESPs are Chicago Teachers Union PSRPs. The layoffs stem from the low level of per-pupil funding which CPS Central Office set for schools, meaning that all over the city, principals are being forced, for example, to choose between keeping a veteran teacher and keeping a program library. Current budgets are so low that schools can’t keep both.

“While the district claims that most of the cuts are due to drops in enrollment, there are an ever-increasing number of charter schools siphoning students out of public schools and contributing to a system of dysfunction and instability that leads parents to seek other options for their children. The situation serves to underscore the unacceptably low level of funding that Chicago’s neighborhood schools receive, as every time teachers and other staff are cut, it is harder for schools to serve communities, and the teachers who remain have to shoulder more and more of the burden.

“This decision further demonstrates the disdain for public education and the lack of leadership and vision for the city from our mayor and his handpicked Board. Do we want ‘Star Wars’ museums or public, neighborhood schools? Do we want presidential libraries or librarians for every child?”

Peter Dowd. Rauner is no regular guy.

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The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) released an editorial cartoon created by attorney J. Peter Dowd with the law firm of Dowd, Bloch, Bennett & Cervone, which represents the CTU and other unions and their pension and health funds.

Regarding the illustration, Dowd said:

“I was inspired by the blatant hypocrisy of Bruce Rauner. For the Republican primary he started out as the successful businessman in expensive suits and tie. He proposed to run the state like a business, slash the state budget, cut taxes and crush the union bosses. For Rauner, in a moment of regretted candor, it was a good idea to cut the minimum wage by $1.00 instead of raising it to $10. According to Boss Rauner, state employees and retirees are overpaid. The $160 billion in cuts enacted by the legislature was opposed by Rauner because the cuts were not deep enough. He was proud of the wealth that put him not only in the top 1 percent, but in the top .01 percent. He also promised to reign in collective bargaining rights of teachers and to privatize more public schools by multiplying charter schools.

“Then, with the Republican nomination in hand, Rauner embarked on a ‘regular guy’ remake similar to Mitt Romney’s attempt to erase this Republican presidential primary persona like a cartoon character on an Etch-a-Sketch. The suit and tie is replaced by a plaid shirt. The anti-union, anti-worker platform is covered over with images of his wife who trusts him and will vote for him even though she is a Democrat. There is no longer an angry boss with a conservative Republican platform. He wants to seduce independents and Democrats with his crooked smile and trusting wife.”

– CTUnet

CTU says no deal to pension cuts.

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Chicago Tribune:

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said Wednesday that negotiations over a pension overhaul with the school district are at a stalemate, and her members are ready to aggressively fight proposed cuts to their retirement benefits.

According to Lewis, the latest proposal from the district would eliminate annual cost-of-living increases for retirees and cut total pension payments for a retiree by about a third.

“We are concerned about what it looks like,” Lewis said. “What they want are benefit cuts and cuts to the cost of living, and that is what they claim is going to save a lot of money. It’s a very shortsighted approach to the problem.”

Negotiations between Chicago Public Schools and CTU over pension changes have gone on for months, but on Wednesday Lewis said the district is refusing to meet. CPS said that isn’t the case.

“For the last two years, the district has been working to reach an agreement with CTU on meaningful pension reform that protects the retirement security of our teachers while avoiding dramatic cuts to the classroom,” said CPS spokesman Joel Hood. “We have always been willing to sit down for discussions with the CTU.”

CPS officials declined to discuss the district’s latest offer on pension changes or respond to Lewis’ version of it.

Likewise, Lewis declined to provide details of the union’s offer to solve the pension problem. The union said it has offered solutions that include restoring the pension levy that was removed after the mayor’s office took control of public schools in the mid-1990s.

Chicago teacher pensions are just one piece of the city and state’s troubled government worker pension system.

The city’s teachers are not affected by the state pension overhaul passed by the General Assembly last year and now under legal attack by state employee unions.

The Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund along with four city pension funds face a combined debt of $27.4 billion. The CTU plans to join with unions representing city firefighters, police and laborers in Springfield on Feb. 19 to fight for their pensions as Gov. Pat Quinn gives his budget address.

Chicago Teachers Union on the CPS charter vote.

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CHICAGO – Today, Chicago Teachers Union President (CTU) Karen Lewis said the decision by the Chicago Board of Education to approve seven new charter schools is hypocritical in the face of recent school closings and only further illustrates the predatory corporate-led agenda currently waged on public schools. She said today’s vote to approve seven new publicly-funded, privately held charter operations, in the wake of school budget cuts, lacked logic, reason and common sense.

Claiming a billion dollar deficit and the exodus of African Americans from the city, the school district shuttered the most elementary schools in our nation’s history. Ironically, the justification for today’s vote, according to Chicago Public School (CPS) leaders, is to “relieve overcrowding,” even though 47 percent of all existing charters are underutilized with more than 11,000 un-used seats.

District leaders claim charter operations, most of which fare no better than regular CPS schools, offer parents a “high-quality choice.” Yet, even though thousands of parents chose last year to keep their neighborhood schools open, the Board and CPS officials refused to adhere to their wishes. As the school district touts the benefits of charters it rarely provides the public with factual and important information that would inform a parent’s decision to enroll their child in a charter operation.

“Freedom to choose is at the bedrock of our society,'” Lewis said, “But choice should be based on fact and data. What is being presented is a false choice. Knowledge is the basis for real choice. What parents and the public are being presented with is a pre-determined path that leads to the undermining of our neighborhood schools and the privatization of public education.” 

Lewis also decried the seamy underbelly’ of the charter movement, saying ‘”The insider deals, the lack of transparency and accountability in many of these operations illustrate a double standard. Behavior that would get an administrator fired in CPS, gets their charter counterparts bonuses via the largess of the taxpayers.”

The labor leader and chemistry teacher said the Board should seek to overhaul Illinois law that allows charters to circumvent the district and have their campuses open, despite concerns about operations and curriculum.

The CTU offered to work with the Board to address the shortcomings in the existing charter law that gave unprecedented authority to an authorizing agency. “The CTU has solutions to augment the current law and we believe our proposals will allow the district to spend tax payer money more efficiently, transparently and have real accountability not simply based on test scores.”

Chicago Teachers Union moves to establish an Independent Political Organization.

Resolution for the Chicago Teachers Union to Launch an Independent Political Organziation (IPO)

Whereas, the Chicago Teachers Union hopes to transform the traditional means of engaging in politics and legislative activities in Chicago and Illinois to engender authentic political engagement to amplify the voice and representation of working and poor people in politics and legislative process, and

Whereas, Mayor Emanuel and his allies have supported massive school closings, drastically reduced school funding, increased racial and economic inequality throughout Chicago, advocated for mandatory minimums that will lead to increased incarceration of Black and Latino youth, privatized essential services, and balanced budgets on the backs of the most vulnerable, and

Whereas, we can engage with other likeminded progressive organizations to push for immediate changes to address the real time needs of working and poor communities in Chicago through legislative and electoral engagement in City Hall and the Illinois General Assembly, and

Whereas, we must reinvigorate the average citizen to remind our elected representatives that they are beholden to their constituencies and the needs of the wards and districts they represent, therefore be it

Resolved, that the Chicago Teachers Union along with key allies in the progressive labor movement and amongst community organizations will launch an independent political organization (IPO) that is capable of leading strong electoral and legislative campaigns to benefit working families, our active and retired members, and our communities, and be it further

Resolved, that the IPO will enable a broad multitude of diverse organizations to establish a pipeline for candidate development to identify and train people who are part of our movements to become elected officialsp and that such people are dedicated to our shared vision, will fully support campaigns that advocate for our needs, and will be held accountable to the people who helped put them in office, and be it finally

Resolved, that the IPO will engage in year round community outreach and campaign to build public support for our platform and political objectives, not just during the election season; and the IPO’s goal is to develop, elect and support candidates to be advocates for those objectives, not just to become members of elective office.

There’s nothing in the contract about the temperature.

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At 6:30 I got up to let Ulysses out. He didn’t want to go.

The thermometer read -12 degrees.

By the way. Now – three hours later – it says  -14 degrees.

Up until yesterday afternoon CPS boss Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Mayor Rahm Emanuel (who was vacationing in the South Pacific with his family) were saying the schools would be open. Faculty and staff were expected to show up for work. Parents could choose to have their children walk Safe Passage Routes, past their now-closed neighborhood school, in temperatures that are life-threatening.

At a press conference of all City department heads, minus the Mayor and BBB, citizens were told to stay indoors.

When asked where Byrd-Bennett was, a city official claimed she was checking on school boilers. With a straight face.

It took the Chicago Teachers Union and its President Karen Lewis to talk sense and light a match under the Mayor’s butt.

The Chicago Teachers Union today demanded that Chicago Public Schools demonstrate concern for the health and safety of children and staff by closing its 600+ school buildings on Monday, January 6, 2014.

“Right now, CPS and the City of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management are sending confusing and mixed messages to the public about what to do,” said CTU President Karen GJ Lewis. “We believe common sense would dictate that CPS should close schools with at least 10 inches of snow already on the ground and a record-breaking low temperature of -10 degrees forecast for Monday.”

The wind chill factor is expected to hit a low of -45 degrees on Monday, according to the National Weather Service. Thousands of schools and both public and private businesses around the city and state will close their doors tomorrow. The CTU believes that the district should do the same. 

“We expect nothing less when it comes to paying attention to the well-being of the children and teachers we serve,” Lewis said. “In light of the forecast, sending children to school in such dangerous weather conditions shouldn’t even be an option for parents.”

Shortly after the CTU announcement, CPS said schools would be closed today.

Ironically, the common sense of the CTU may have actually done something to save the Mayor’s butt as well as put a fire under it.

Rahm was teetering towards a Michael Bilandic moment. Bilandic replaced the first Mayor Daley following the Mayor’s death (after a coup which removed the African-American Wilson Frost from the fifth floor of City Hall).

Older Chicagoans will tell you about the blizzard of 1979 and Bilandic’s great fail, which included CTA trains not stopping at stations on the west and south side.

Rahm is returning from a family vacation in the sunny South Pacific today.

Had schools been forced to stay open and had any children been hurt or worse as a result of the dangerous weather situation, it would have been on Rahm.

A friend wrote to ask, “What about kids who need a hot breakfast?”

“It’s a good question,” I wrote back. “Or the parents who must must work and have no safe warm place to send their kids. Which shows how ill-prepared the city is to care for it’s neediest. Of course, putting thousands of children, many whom must walk extra long distances to schools out of their neighborhoods because their home school was closed is not a safe alternative. This is on the Mayor. We need a new one.”

This once again shows what the role of a real union is. There’s nothing in the contract about outside temperatures or weather that I know of.

But good sense and civic leadership – the ability to speak on behalf of the city’s poor and working families when nobody else will or can – is what the CTU does.

The entire city is lucky to have it.