FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Stephanie Gadlin
September 10, 2013 312/329-6250
CTU MARKS ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF HISTORIC STRIKE
Teachers ‘changed the conversation’ about the quality of public education in Chicago
CHICAGO – One year ago, nearly 30,000 public school educators took to the picket lines to fight for the neighborhood schools their students deserve. They also wanted to secure a strong labor contract and regain respect for their profession. It was the first teachers strike in the city’s history in 25 years and it took the city by storm. Led by Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis, a former chemistry teacher, the colorful demonstrations, which began September 10, 2012 and lasted nine days, garnered national and international headlines as the “sea of red,” flooded the streets of downtown Chicago in a unified show of force.
The 2012 teachers strike was perhaps the first time in the city’s history that a labor action of its kind garnered widespread support from the public, including parents of Chicago Public School (CPS) students. After weeks of dramatic labor negotiations, protests, news conferences and rallies at the Board of Education teachers walked away with one of the strongest labor contract in recent history, a more unified workforce and the distinction of haven taken on a powerful, media-savvy mayor and won.
For weeks leading up to the strike, teachers and other school employees organized internally, trained its leaders and began an outreach campaign for parents. Lewis and other CTU leaders showed the public that a ‘good contract’ was paramount in having high-quality, neighborhood schools. The union consistently pushed the narrative that proved that poverty and severe racial disparities had significantly impacted the school district. It released its ground-breaking education platform, “The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve,” and advocated for reforms to the TIF program, additional wrap-around services for students, quality school facilities and more access to pre-school and kindergarten for low-income students. The union pulled the curtain off the charter movement’s marketing campaign and called on the school district to hold the privately-held, publicly funded operations accountable for poor student performance and high teacher turn-over rates.
The events leading to the strike were equally dramatic. On May 23rd, more than 12,000 CTU members, parents and students took to the streets of Chicago in a dynamic display of solidarity. Weeks later on June 11, the CTU revealed that 90 percent of its members voted to give their labor organization the authority to call a strike. A new state law had required a 75 percent of all eligible CTU voters to vote in the affirmative in order to provide strike authorization. The law proved useless as the city’s public school educators responded to a barrage of coordinated attacks from the mayor’s office, school CEO and the city’s wealthy, out-of-town corporate school reform assassins. After all night labor negotiations with the Board failed to produce an agreement, the union called a strike at midnight on Sept. 10 and teachers, clinicians and paraprofessionals walked the picket lines until they returned to the classroom just over a week later; this despite, the mayor’s unsuccessful attempt to have a court force an end to the strike.
“This Union had survived an all-out attack on our very existence and our ability to advocate for our members, our students and their communities from a well-funded, well-orchestrated group of extremely wealthy people who saw themselves as the authorities on education,” Lewis reflected. “We were vilified in the press and on paid radio ads which attempted to paint us as greedy and unknowledgeable. Our contractually agreed to raises were stolen to goad us into acting rashly. Our members have been laid off, terminated and publicly humiliated all in attempt to turn public school educators and the public against us. None of it worked.”
Added CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey, “The odds were not in our favor. The state legislature had been conned by the corporate reformers into passing Senate Bill 7 which was nothing more than an attempt to bust our union and further decimate our public school system. Our members were angry but worn out from fighting their principals over the years; and, the public had not been given the whole story. People believed that teachers were lazy and were to blame for everything that’s wrong in our system. No one wanted a strike, but we had to exercise our right to strike in order to strengthen our school district. This was bigger than taking on the mayor or the Board—this was about fighting for our students, and people finally understood that.”
For the first time in CTU history, the union was able to secure a number of gains for its members including, blocking the use of merit pay and standardized test scores in teacher evaluations; a principal anti-bullying clause; freedom to develop lesson plans; the hiring of art, music and physical education teachers to create a “better school day” for students as the year grew longer; significant cost of living increases; and short-term disability leave for pregnant teachers. In addition, for the first time in nearly two decades, Lewis, Sharkey and the other officers, Recording Secretary Michael Brunson and Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle, were re-elected by 80 percent of its members following a contract negotiation. Previous contracts had led to past CTU leaders being thrown out of office.
“We also gained international respect for our resistance to the struggle for equitable education. We won the right for professional autonomy in lesson plans; we won a more reasonable evaluation system which was intended to use up to 50 percent for student test scores,” Lewis said. “We gained the ability to finally have due process in all discipline issues and the right to appeal evaluations. We also won a real right for teachers to follow students when schools close—which proved significant when CPS closed 50 schools in a single year.”
Some critics believe the strike did little beyond addressing the bread and butter issues impacting teachers. However, the school district announced recently that last year’s test scores went up; the longer school day was a success and the overall quality of education improved in just a short year. This was due to the visible and vocal advocacy of rank-and-file teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians who fought for change the conversation about public education in the city.
While the CTU strike sparked similar labor protests throughout the state, including about eight teacher strikes in the region, the organization’s leaders say there is still much work to be done. The group will continue to expose the contradictions in public policy as well as broaden its base of support by working with parents, students, clergy, community-based organizations and others.
“Since the strike we have strengthened our ability to build power through a significant change in the political landscape including increased voter awareness, registration and candidate preparation,” Lewis said. “We’ve done remarkable work towards equitable funding by changing the conversation about revenue but now our focus is on securing fair taxes, closing corporate loopholes and holding the unelected, unaccountable school board to making budgetary decisions that do not destroy traditional public schools.”
The Chicago Teachers Union represents 30,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in the Chicago Public Schools, and by extension, the more than 400,000 students and families they serve. The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third largest teachers local in the United States and the largest local union in Illinois. For more information please visit CTU’s website at www.ctunet.com.
Our team takes on their team. Go team.
Chicago Tribune cartoon of CTU President Karen Lewis.
This is in response to “My challenge to Karen Lewis” (Perspective, April 26), by Tanya Saunders-Wolffe, a counselor at Jesse Owens Community Academy on the Far South Side. Why is the Chicago Tribune newspaper a venue for proselytizing Saunders-Wolffe’s contention for the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union? Do other unions try to convince the public of their need for a change in leadership, and to whom does a newspaper give such an airing? Why should the public, most of whom do not belong to my union, be involved in our election — unless Saunders-Wolffe and the Coalition to Save Our Union are getting support through publishing their platform and grievances through her advertisement?
The Coalition to Save Our Union got major media play months ago as Debbie Lynch introduced the opposition to the current leadership. Karen Lewis launched her campaign in public recently. Barely a major outlet noticed.
Saunders-Wolffe has the right to opine as a citizen about any issue she wishes. The Tribune publishes what it wants. I call into question why the interests that run the paper have published her appeal but refuse to research the claims of representatives of the Coalition to Save Our Union to give a “fair and balanced” report to its patrons.
Both of my sisters-in-the-union, Lewis and Saunders-Wolffe, will have a more appropriate place to campaign for leadership: among our other union members. Campaigning can be grueling and has been known to be dirty. Does the Chicago Tribune have to contribute to this?
— Kimberly Bowsky, member, Chicago Teachers Union
I was disappointed to open the Tribune and read the opinion piece “My challenge to Karen Lewis.”
I am a math teacher in the Englewood neighborhood, and your readers should know that Lewis and the rest of the Chicago Teachers Union officers have the full support of the vast majority of the teachers and staff who work in the Chicago Public Schools. Our union is active, united and democratic, and I am proud to be a part of it.
I’m proud to have a union president who has the intellect and political skills to battle the mayor.
The teachers, parents and students of Chicago desperately need people like Lewis to lead us as we fight to save our schools and communities.
— Drew Heiserman, teacher, Englewood High School, Chicago
- The oft-maligned Chicago Public Schools (CPS) policy of subjecting neighborhood schools to “turnaround” discriminates against African-American teachers and staff according to a federal lawsuit filed this week by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and three public school educators. More than half of the 347 tenured teachers who were terminated by CPS as a result of the most recent turnarounds are African-American. This is the second major legal action on this matter taken by the union.
- The Dec. 26 lawsuit alleges that the process for selecting schools for turnaround results in schools being selected that have a high percentage of African-American teachers, compared to schools that performed similarly but are not selected for any school action. More than 50 percent of the tenured teachers terminated as a result of the most recent turnarounds were African American, despite making up less than 30 percent of the tenured teaching staff at CPS, and 35 percent of the tenured teacher population in the poor performing schools.
- The complaint, a potential class action first filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in August by the CTU and teachers Donald L. Garrett Jr., Robert Green and Vivonell Brown Jr., challenges termination by virtue of the Chicago Board of Education’s policy and practice in selecting 10 South and West side schools for turnaround in February 2012—effective June 2012.
- “While no one wins when jobs are lost, to disproportionately affect a particular segment of the population— whether intentional or not—indicates a glaring oversight and lack of concern for what the loss of jobs does to an individual and their community,” said CTU President Karen GJ Lewis.
- Most of the district’s African-American teachers are employed in schools on the South and West sides, where school closings and teacher layoffs have been prevalent since 2001. In the last six years, 26 schools have been reconstituted, or become turnaround schools, where all faculty and staff and dismissed and replaced. Dismissals are handed down regardless of qualifications or experience, and are followed by a CPS selection process to re-staff the school.
- “CPS terminates every single employee when it subjects a neighborhood school to ‘turnaround,’ regardless of qualifications and experience,” said attorney Robin Potter. “The inequity of the most recent ‘turnarounds’ is not merely perception but a reality.”
- Approximately 90 percent of students in CPS’s 578 non-charter schools are minorities. Forty-two percent of these students are identified as African-American, but the African-American teaching population has gradually declined in recent years, from 40.6 percent in 2000 to 29.6 percent in 2010.
- It should be noted that once CPS “turns around a school,” one of two operators are given control over the school—either the CPS Office of School Improvement (OSI) or the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL). If the school is operated by OSI, it remains subject to the terms of the CTU labor agreement, but under AUSL—a private entity—it is no longer subject to CPS policies, Board rules or the terms of the current labor agreement. The operator is responsible for the hiring process to re-staff the school.
- The Board of Education approved the turnaround of 10 schools in February 2012, stating that each of the schools was selected because of its alleged poor performance. Each of these schools was located on the South or West sides of the city, where the student and teacher populations are predominantly minority.
- The school district has yet to release any information on how these 10 schools were chosen from over 180 allegedly poor performing schools in the CPS system. The Board has been roundly criticized for its lack of transparency and published criteria in selecting schools for turnaround. In fact, the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force, a statutorily-created oversight group, called for a complete halt of turnarounds and other school action, saying, “CPS’s historic and continuing lack of transparency and evidence-based criteria for decisions resulted in the pervasive climate of public suspicion about what drives CPS to take school actions and allocate resources, often in ways perceived to be highly inequitable.”
- The federal lawsuit seeks relief for all teachers affected by the 2012 and any future turnarounds—including reinstatement and damages—and importantly, an immediate moratorium on turnarounds and the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee any future turnarounds, should any occur or be permitted.
- LINKS TO LEGAL DOCUMENTS:
- CTU vs. Board of Education: Turnarounds and Race Class Action
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Filing
- CPS Turnarounds: 2006 to present
He’s an idiot.
I have negotiated many contracts.
We went out on strike over one.
The membership rejected one after our team brought it back. We went back and got a little more.
I never make public judgments about what the union members anywhere decide to do about a bargained contract. Their contract.
The Chicago CTU House of Delegates just voted minutes ago to take time to read the deal and vote on Tuesday.
Karen Lewis and the leadership made it clear that it was the member’s right to do. “I am only their spokesman.”
She also said that the 800 pound gorilla in the room is that teachers don’t trust the board and the fear of massive school closings.
Rahm set that into motion with comments all weekend that this contract would lead to closing schools.
He’s an idiot.
Update: Further evidence of Rahm idiocy is his move to get a judge to file an injunction, forcing teachers back to work. Rahm is claiming that this is an illegal strike since SB7 limits the right to strike to economic issues. In fact, the strike has technically been over salary and benefits, while discussions have included other bargainable issues. CTU lawyers have been prepared for this injunction all week sources tell me, and are fully prepared to immediately respond.
A second grader named Aaron once told me a joke.
“Hey Mr. Klonsky. What’s the difference between boogers and Brussel sprouts?”
“I don’t know, Aaron. What’s the difference between boogers and Brussel sprouts?”
“Kids will eat boogers.”
I thought of that joke this morning as I read Mark Brown’s column in the Sun-Times.
Brown listed all the reasons why the teachers are winning this strike.
But he suggested that he thought that principal discretion in hiring was not a bad idea.
From what I have heard, the issue of union recall rights is one of the last things that is holding up an agreement.
Brown, a long time observer of Chicago politics and critic of business as usual should know better.
Union recall rights are what stands in the way of fair hiring practices being replaced by old time Chicago-style patronage.
Without union recall rights alderman will be calling principals and demanding their cousins be hired in their ward’s schools.
And then they will be demanding their cousin be the principal.
“So, Aaron. What’s the difference between principal discretion in hiring and patronage?”
“I don’t know, Mr. Klonsky. What’s the difference between principal discretion in hiring and patronage?”
“That’s not a joke, Mr. Klonsky.”
“It sure isn’t, Aaron.”