Back to school dreams and nightmares.

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In 2009, in the depths of the Great Recession, I was speaking at a rally in support of striking teachers in Ottawa, Illinois.

Years after I no longer worked at Chicago’s U.S. Steel’s Southworks plant, I would have this stress dream.

In my dream it is twenty years since I had worked at the giant steel mill, but I am walking to the 96″ plate mill that (now  no longer) sits on the far end of the collection of production mills. The wind is bitter and cuts through my clothes. It a freezing cold and windy walk along the lake from the employee parking lot. It is dark and the dead of a bad Chicago winter. 11PM shift.

My oil and grease covered clothes and safety helmet are where I left them, still in my locker.

In this dream I change clothes and put on my metatarsal boots as I had always done. I walk into the shop. Nobody asks where I had been all these years. Nobody has aged. It was as if I had never left.

For years this was a recurring dream.

My teaching stress dream since retirement is that I can recognize every kid that misbehaved. Thirty years of kids that are now all in one class. And I am totally unprepared. I have no plan. I have no supplies. I have no idea what I am supposed to do. It is like my first day on the job and nothing is in my control.

It has been a year since I’ve had that stress dream.

Those were just dreams. The stress on teachers today is real. And it doesn’t come from an imaginary classroom collection of thirty years of misbehaving students.

A 538 report points out that the economic recovery has not come to America’s teachers or its schools.

We are still on our road trip. Talking to an old friend on Long Island who is from Massachusetts, I repeated the fact that only Mississippi spends less as a state on its schools than Illinois.

She was shocked.

“What is the matter with Illinois? I mean only Mississippi is worse?”

As millions of children across the country head back to school this month, they will be returning to schools with fewer teachers than in past years. Those teachers will be paid less, on average. And many of them will be working in school systems that receive less funding.

When I was on Rick Smith’s radio show last week we discussed this.

With legislative constraints on teacher tenure and seniority, veteran teachers are being laid off to save money.

Many district are adding minus-zero steps to their salary schedule, reducing the starting salaries of new teachers and adding to the total number of years a teacher must work until they reach the maximum salary.

Governor Rauner and the Democratic Party-controlled Illinois legislature is threatening a third retirement tier, turning pension over to the private sector with no guarantees of a defined retirement benefit.

The 7-year-old economic recovery has not been kind to the American public education system. In May 2008, as the Great Recession was just beginning, U.S. school departments employed 8.4 million teachers and other workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This past May, they employed just 8.2 million — despite public-school enrollments that the Department of Education estimated have risen by more than 1 million students during the same period. Student-teacher ratios are as high as they’ve been since the late 1990s, though they’re still well below their levels of the 1980s and most of the 1990s.

The staff cuts reflect a broader pullback in education funding in recent years. Public schools actually came through the recession relatively well, as stimulus money from the federal government helped offset cuts at the state and local levels. But federal dollars dried up before states were able to pick up the slack. In 2014, the latest year for which full data is available, state public-education funding was 6.6 percent lower than in 2008. (Local funding, which accounts for about 45 percent of school budgets, was down about 1 percent over the same span.) Federal spending rose, but not enough to overcome the state cuts: Per-student spending fell 2.4 percent after adjusting for inflation. (All spending figures in this story have been adjusted for inflation.)

The Chicago Teachers Union, without a contract for over a year, is threatening a strike if the CPS board sticks to its demand of a 7% pay cut.

During the Great Recession I would hear from those who complained about teacher salary and benefits as they or their family members faced stagnant salaries or job losses.

The truth was that teacher salary increases were never that great. Most of the contracts I saw negotiated in those years after the near-collapse of Wall Street included big increases in health care costs to teachers and district employees.

It is now clear from the 538 report that teachers are now among those not included in whatever counts as the economic recovery.

That is why the pay cut to teacher salaries demanded by Rahm, CEO Forrest Claypool and the CPS board cannot be allowed to stand.

CTU rejects fact finder report and the Zombie Budget Apocalypse.

Fred Klonsky graphic.

Faced with a school system in an economic freefall, an extremist governor fighting to destroy Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the Illinois educational labor law that has tied his hands, neutral fact finder Steven Bierig today recommended that the parties reconsider an old CPS contract offer that has already been unanimously rejected by the Chicago Teachers Union’s (CTU) bargaining team. This is the same contract offer that even CPS now claims it can no longer afford due to its broke on purpose fiscal policies that have led to zombie budgets decimating public schools. The Union immediately served its Notice of Rejection under Section 12(a-10)(5) of the Educational Labor Relations Act, which means the fact finder’s report is dead letter and the 30-day countdown for a possible strike under Section 13(b)(2.5) begins today.

 “The clock has started,” said CTU President Karen Lewis, who also noted the Union will hold a formal press conference Monday with details to be announced later. “CPS has created this fiscal mess and refuses to go after hundreds of millions of dollars in existing  revenue that is already out there. Our wacked out governor isn’t helping. Hand-in-hand, both will wind up hurting our members and our students in the long-run. We have no choice but to prepare ourselves for a possible strike.”

 The previously-rejected contract proposal made by CPS on January 29 would result in teachers taking home less in earnings at the end of the proposed four-year contract than they earn today; and, educator take home pay would be less on June 30, 2019, than it was on July 1, 2014, when the last CPS raise occurred.  The January 29 proposal also sought to freeze salary steps and lanes, which have been in effect for 50 consecutive years, and eliminate the 7 percent pension pickup, which has been in effect for 35 consecutive years.

 Cutting educator compensation is not the answer to CPS’s extreme financial problems.  The district desperately needs stable, sustainable and increasing revenue to finance its operations.  Without it, the mayor’s handpicked Board of Education can’t afford any contract proposal, even its own.  Mr. Bierig noted in his report that CPS now says it cannot afford its own January 29 proposal anymore.  In his dissent to the neutral fact finder’s report, Union panel member Atty. Robert Bloch noted that “CPS finances have surpassed the danger zone and are now nearly at meltdown.  We need revenue solutions to finance public education, not more cuts to the system, which has already been cut well past the bone and now threatens the vital organs.”

 The fact finder released his report today, followed immediately by the CTU’s notice of rejection. Under the Educational Labor Act, the 30-day countdown for a possible strike begins, meaning the earliest public school educators could withhold their labor is May 16, about a month before the school year ends.  The Union is not required to strike, but it has the right to strike at the conclusion of this 30-day period, provided it first serves upon CPS a 10-day notice of intent to strike. The Union’s membership has already authorized a strike; and, should one be necessary to secure a fair contract, the CTU House of Delegates will deliberate to set the date of the strike.

 Lewis added, “We have to talk to our people. We don’t know if we are going to force the school year to a close now or strike when the next school year begins. Either way, we won’t be held hostage by the Board’s zombie budgets. They need to go after the banks, TIF funds, and other forms of short- and long-term revenue that are sitting right in front of us. If they are serious about helping our students and preserving public education in our city, then they will do everything they can to stabilize our schools—and that does not mean hurting teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians over and over again.”

 Note: Media will be notified Monday of the time and location of the formal news conference to release further details of the CTU rejection of the fact finder’s report. No other comments will be made until that time.

Democracy in Chicago.


What democracy looks like.

In a city with a not so distant history of massive election cheating, where those long dead would still cast a vote, where I myself have witnessed back in the day local Machine precinct captains slipping a twenty along with a palm card (and, yes, I reported it) to a voter who had just emerged from the local tavern and entered the polling place, it may be hard to recognize democracy when we see it.

There have been two watershed moments for political democracy in my lifetime in my city.

One was the election of Harold Washington as Mayor.

The other was the election of a chemistry teacher, Ms Karen Jennings Lewis, and the CORE slate to lead the Chicago Teachers Union.

Both were the result of movements from below. Both sparked more street level motion.

I received a phone call early yesterday morning that Karen and the CORE slate had been re-elected by acclamation the night before at the House of Delegates meeting. There was no opposition and so no need to spend the $300,000 an election would cost the members.

This was not a sign of any lack of democracy within the CTU. It was an endorsement of CORE and Lewis’ unwavering leadership in the face of union-bashing Rahm and Rauner and bad educational polices coming from the Fifth Floor, Springfield and Washington.

They have laid new ground in pursuing a vision of the CTU as a social justice union with Black and Latino voices at the top.

I have been battling undemocratic union leadership my entire adult life, from the United Steelworkers national leadership in the 70s, to the Illinois Education Association now. Trust me.

I know undemocratic leadership well.

You can smell it.

There are few as democratic as the CTU.

“Elections cancelled,” ran the headlines in the Sun-Times, Tribune and even Catalyst as if something sneaky had happened, or that there had been a coup.

And Peter Cunningham, who runs Eli Broad’s $12 million dollar Education Post, compared the CTU with Putin’s Russia.

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Crain’s Chicago Business joined Cunningham in the Red-baiting, referring to the re-election of Ms Lewis, who is Chicago’s most visible African American woman leader, in the most sneering terms: Chicago teachers follow their maximum leader.


Updated: CTU’s CORE leadership re-elected by acclamation.


I am hearing reports this morning that the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union, including it’s President Karen Lewis, were re-elected by acclamation at last night’s House of Delegates meeting.

There was no opposition to the CORE slate.

As I wrote about the other day, there has been a lot of debate around town and within the union itself over strike tactics and how to build the movement against austerity, attacks on communities of color and labor.

Of course, those debates will continue. But the re-election of the current leadership demonstrates in my mind that the membership stands with its leadership.

UPDATE: Since I posted this morning, the CTU has released this statement.

Chicago Strike Day. Thousands in the Loop. “Don’t fall for the okey doke,” warns President Lewis.

All photos: Fred Klonsky

IMG_2415Hundreds marched, rallied in Logan Square and rode the Blue Line to the rally in the Loop.

IMG_2417IMG_2421IMG_2422IMG_2427IMG_2428IMG_2430So many thousands rallied at the Thompson Center in the Loop that they filled the side streets, closing them down.IMG_2431IMG_2442Chicago Progressive Aldermen Rick Munoz and Scott Waguespack.

IMG_2444IMG_2447CTU President Karen Lewis spoke and asked why those a few blocks away on LaSalle Street couldn’t pay their share. “Don’t fall for their old okey doke,” she warned the crowd.

CTU. Send lawyers, money. No guns.

In the shitty excuse for investigative journalism, yesterday’s alleged expose of CTU money, The Chicago Sun-Times focused on union money spent on the union’s law firm.

Since Lewis and her team took over the union’s leadership in June 2010, Robin Potter & Associates has been paid more than $1 million to handle discrimination cases and other matters involving teachers.

In 2013-14, the union paid more than $1.2 million to Robin Potter and two other law firms: $361,159 to Robin Potter; $500,201 to Dowd, Bloch & Bennett, for bargaining issues; and 361,958 to Poltrock & Poltrock, for employment law issues, the records show. It spent another $241,536 on in-house lawyers.

“What does the union need lawyers for?” asked a reader.

I could give you a list a mile long.

For example.

Years ago our little Park Ridge union local wanted to publish a newsletter that featured examples of the great teaching that went on in our district’s schools. We wanted it to go home with the paper take-home our students received each week. We promised it would not address any contractual or union/management issues. We just wanted the same rights that other community groups had, including church groups. Their stuff was often stapled as an attachment to the take-home. This was before information was mainly sent home electronically.

The board immediately said no.

We filed a federal law suit. The IEA provided us with a very good labor lawyer and a law student. The board had Seyforth Shaw. Seyforth Shaw is a giant national firm known for labor union busting, including legal work for agri-business in California against the Farmworkers union.

In Chicago their firm has their headquarters in seven floors of a fancy office building on Dearborn Street.

How much this cost the board and how much it cost the IEA, I have no idea.

I know that fighting for our legal rights didn’t come cheap.

Our legal position was that we could not be denied access to the take-homes on the basis of who we were. We argued that the board denied us access – not based on what we said in our publication – but only because we were the union.

The first step was a hearing before a magistrate. Apparently it didn’t go well for the board’s side. They quickly settled and  agreed to our wishes.

Full disclosure: CTU attorney, Robin Potter, is a friend of mine.

In the period covered by the Sun-Times story, I posted about a law suit filed by the CTU.

In 2011 the Chicago school board carried out large-scale layoffs of teachers and paraprofessionals.

African American board employees bore the brunt of the layoffs just as the board’s closing of neighborhood public schools two years ago mainly impacted African American communities.

As a result of the layoffs in 2011 the Chicago Teachers Union and three impacted teachers filed suit.

As I understand it, a law suit like this has three components.  First, the plaintiffs must show that they represent a class of people by a preponderance of the evidence. They were not just individual victims. It was not a coincidence that they were mostly African American. The judge is asked to certify that it is a class action before the case can move on to trial and a ruling of damages.

On Friday, Senior U.S. Judge Milton Shadur ruled in favor of the CTU and the three teachers.

However Judge Shadur didn’t just rule in the plaintiff’s favor.

The Judge was scathing in his rebuke of the CPS board.

“What does Board say on the critical issue of disparate impact in this critical case? Here are Amended Complaint 7 and 8 and Board’s “responses”:

7. In June, 2011, the Board terminated the employment of 931 classroom teachers through a round of layoffs. 480 of these teachers were tenured. African Americans made up 42% of the tenure teachers terminated, although constituting less than 29% of all CPS tenured teachers.

ANSWER: The Board denies the allegations of paragraph 7.

8. Defendant’s pattern and practice of targeting schools with high African American teaching populations for layoffs has a disparate impact on African American tenured teachers and staff.

ANSWER: The Board denies the allegations of paragraph 8 and further states that the Board does not “target” schools, or any demographic of teachers or staff, for layoffs under any circumstance.

And that’s it — the sum total of Board’s purported input on the subject of disparate impact, which is of course the essential linchpin for class certification purposes. Board has said not a word, then or since then, about the claimed basis for its unsupported ipse dixit “denial.”

In candor, that is totally irresponsible. This action has been pending for just short of 2-1/2 years: Plaintiffs filed their initial Complaint on December 26, 2012, and Board has known from day one about plaintiffs’ disparate impact contention and about the asserted numbers upon which those contentions rely.”

Judge Shadur’s ruling and order then proceeded through each requirement for certification as a class and sided with the teachers on each one.

He concluded:

Board’s only challenge to certification under Rule 23(b)(3) is its broken-record-type reassertion that individual principals fired plaintiffs, so that common questions do not predominate on that skewed premise. And that means Board has simply failed to raise any substantial challenge at all to plaintiffs’ arguments.

The case now will proceed to trial and damages.

I don’t imagine the members of the CTU affected by this lawsuit thought it was union money misspent.

The Sun-Times outraged that the CTU has $9 million. That wouldn’t buy Bruce Rauner’s condo on New York’s Park Avenue.


A condo on New York’s Park Avenue. Governor Rauner bought his for $10 million.

Oh, good Lord.

Another scoop from the Sun-Times about how much money the Chicago Teachers Union has.

New rule: Corporations are people and can donate all the money they want to buy politicians.  But teachers must be beggars and can’t spend a dime on political campaigns or on lawyers to defend their contract, pension and political rights.

According to its most recent filings with the Internal Revenue Service, the union had $9.8 million in cash on hand at the end of the 2013-14 school year.

Eight CTU employees, including Lewis, were paid more than $100,000 that year.

$9.8 million?

That is so little in reserve to do battle with the billionaires in this state – against the resources of the Mayor and Governor and their Wall Street friends.

$9.8 million wouldn’t be enough to buy the houses Governor Rauner owns. The one he bought on New York’s Park Avenue cost him $10 million alone.

And are we supposed to be shocked that out of the entire CTU, it has eight employees who make more than $100 K.

Given the role that the CTU has played as a bulwark against the anti-union, privatization schemes of the city and state Republican and Democratic Party leadership, I’m amazed they have done so much with so little.