Keeping retirement real. The teacher pay penalty and the issue of money versus benefits.


As school opens many teacher union locals will be selecting (or electing, as we did) their bargaining committees and preparing to sit down with their boards of education. And they are planning their collective bargaining strategies.

In spite of Janus, unions in districts in the shrinking number of states that have collective bargaining rights, will continue to bargain agreements that focus on salaries, benefits, working, teaching and learning conditions.

However, even in states like Illinois, which have formal collective bargaining rights, this has become more difficult than ever.

For example, the Illinois legislature recently intervened directly in the collective bargaining process by capping pensionable salaries at 3%.

I call that “right-to-work creep.”

A report by the Economic Policy Institute addresses the teacher pay penalty.

When I began teaching 35 years ago, teacher compensation was pretty good. Even then, choosing to be a teacher meant taking a financial hit. Those with the same education and training could expect to earn slightly less than those in the private sector.

Now that small financial hit of a 1.8% in 1985 has become a bomb. In 2017, the salary differential had reached a record 18.7%.

No wonder college grads are choosing to go into fields other than teaching. No wonder there is a growing teacher shortage.

Friends will point to benefits and a good (if constantly under threat) pension as the alternative to a competitive salary.

I don’t buy that. I never did.

When our local bargaining committee sat down with our board, the result would be a compensation package that was better on salary than it was in benefits. Some of our members would question this.

The report by the EPI shows that our bargaining policy of giving a priority to salary over benefits was correct.

Collective Bargaining Agreements across the country have moved compensation from salary increases to benefits. It has failed to limit the over all teaching pay penalty. In fact, it worsens the impact of the teaching pay penalty.

Only wages can be saved or spent on housing and food and other critical expenses.

Over the course of many contracts, we knew that salary compounds and that, unlike benefits, salary is harder to take back.

But there is this.

If we had national health care benefits wouldn’t even be much of a bargaining issue. Local school districts and local unions could focus again on offering competitive salaries that would again be attractive to those thinking about teaching.


Did you get your letter from the IPI stink tank yet?


We landed at O’Hare in the middle of a massive summer thunder storm last night.

It was a bumpy ride coming in.

We survived and are back from the annual end of the summer gathering of the family tribe in an old house on a hill overlooking sea and pond on Block Island.

Our mail is on hold, so even if I was still teaching I would not have received the letter from the Illinois Policy Institute, that Bruce Rauner funded stink tank that was one of the groups behind Janus.

In the case of Janus the Supreme Court right-wing anti-union ideological majority ruled against laws that require employees receiving the benefits of a union contract to pay for the service even if they choose not to join.

Having won the day in the Court, IPI wasn’t finished.

Now they’re spending Richard Uihlein’s money on stamps.

Ueihlein is the billionaire owner of the Uline company and has political views that make the Koch brothers seem like liberals.

The stamps will go on the mailing of dog shit to 400,000 Illinois public employees telling them they have the right to quit their union.

WTTW’s Amanda Vinicky:

If it hasn’t already, a flier will soon be arriving in the mailboxes of many of Illinois’ approximately 400,000 public school teachers, state employees and municipal workers (including police officers and firefighters) informing them that their “legal rights as a government employee have changed.”

It’s an early salvo in what will surely be a protracted battle for the allegiances of union-eligible public workers.

The flier was sent by the Illinois Policy Institute, a self-described free-market think tank with links to billionaires like Dick Uihlein, who are bankrolling campaigns for conservative candidates in Illinois and elsewhere.

“We want to be a resource,” IPI spokesman Eric Kohn said. “About what Janus means, what was decided in the case. What their rights are – their constitutional rights were withheld from them for 40-some years. Now that they’ve been restored, we want to make sure they have all of the information that they need to make the best choice for themselves about whether or not they want to be a part of the union, whether they want to pay money to a union and support a union.”

Some have estimated that public employee unions may lose around 8% of their membership in the wake of Janus.

We will see.

The idea that being a member of a public employee union de facto denies employees of their democratic rights is nonsense.

Not that Richard Uihlein is in any way someone who believes in democracy.

He was one of the money men behind Citizens United and we know how that promoted open democracy.

I was proud of the fact that our teacher local union in Park Ridge elected, not only our local leaders, but we elected our bargaining committee.

Now it is true that the state leadership didn’t always approve of that little section of our local’s by-laws. Most bargaining teams are appointed by the local president.

Not us. Members ran. Members voted.

And I’m proud of the fact that the election of our bargaining team was often a contested one. I, for one, am not big on appointments,  unanimous votes and uncontested elections. To me, debate is the hall-mark of democracy.

The leadership of the state union’s disapproval shows that they are not always big believers in democracy either. But doing away with unions is not the solution to that problem.

Doing away with unions just leaves  workers disarmed in the face of the Richard Uihleins of the world.

So, my former colleagues will get the IPI mailing this week or next.  I guarantee most will throw it away.

Not even 8% will quit the union because they got some junk mail.

A waste of stamps.

How many angry Kentucky teachers will follow the KEA back to into school?

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Hundreds of angry teachers closed schools across Kentucky a week ago Friday. They called in sick to protest the pension theft bill that passed through the Kentucky legislature earlier that week.

From the eastern half of the state bordering West Virginia to the northern region near Ohio, 29 school districts were unable to hold classes.

Monday, the start of Spring Break, thousands of teachers protested at the Kentucky capitol, a part of the national teacher revolt that started in West Virginia and has since hit Oklahoma and Arizona as well as Kentucky.

National union leaders seemed to be as caught off guard by the rank and file revolt as were the state’s politicians. Much of what has gone on has been organized through Facebook and closed on-line groups of local teachers and education employees.

National Democrats are hoping to use the teacher revolt against Republicans in the November election. On the other hand they are conflicted about being connected to teacher unions and the verbal support has been tepid. No national Democrat has personally shown up in support of any of the states’ teacher revolts.

Kentucky teachers are supposed to return to classrooms this Monday morning.

The Kentucky Education Association met this past weekend in a state meeting and voted to return to work.

Teacher strikes are illegal in Kentucky.

But the movement of rank and file teachers has not entirely united around the instructions of the historically feckless KEA.

Nema Brewer has emerged as a rank and file leader among classified (non-teaching) school employees. She established the group KY 120 United. 

For weeks, teachers across Kentucky have taken to platforms such as Facebook to vent their frustrations over not just a trying legislative session, but over years of perceived disrespect toward their profession.

Some of the coordination has taken place within “secret” Facebook groups, where only teachers and other school-based staff are allowed to join. At least three such groups have sprung up over the past month, including the largest, “KY 120 UNITED,” which Brewer created. 

But as more teachers find solidarity online, the inevitable has occurred: In a group of thousands of people, not everyone agrees on the best step forward. Online posts reveal a growing fissure among the state’s educators.

While some have pushed for a statewide sickout similar to the one that shut down nearly 30 school districts on March 30, others have questioned what that would accomplish.

“I’m not calling in sick unless there is some kind of plan to go along with it. We’ll lose the public if school closes for no reason,” read one post in a secret group viewed by Courier Journal.

Brewer said similar discussions are taking place in the Facebook group she created, which, as of Friday, had more than 39,000 members. 

Speaking with one Kentucky teacher this weekend I was told, “The sickout may happen in Jefferson County where there is a shortage of substitutes. Combined with some teachers who are angry,  the Jefferson County schools may have to close because the Governor has indicated we will lose our sick days as a result of the ‘reform.'”

This Kentucky teacher told me, “I support Nema. We come at this from slightly different angles. She is from the classified group. I am a teacher. But we are both on a sinking Titanic,” he said, referring to the Kentucky school system.

Janus. It’s not some holiday dystopian movie. It’s teacher unions in 2018 Wisconsin and maybe 2019 for everyone else.

On this week’s Hitting Left with Kenzo Shibata from Democratic Socialists of America we talked about Janus.

If, as expected, the Supreme Court rules against unions and takes away the right to fair share, you will be hard pressed to overestimate the damage it will do to unions.

In Illinois there are about 600 teacher locals with barely more than voluntary leadership, assisted by staff Uniserv Directors that often have a dozen locals they work with.

I have been out the loop for a couple of years. Yet it is difficult for me to imagine that the IEA is any where close to being prepared for the results of losing fair share.

And those local active leaders I talk with tell me pretty much the same thing.

The bottom line in 2019 is that the IEA locals will have to essentially certify every year by signing up every member again. And again the following year. And again the following year.

That will be a hell of a challenge.

Local boards of education must be excited as can be.

Look at what has happened in Wisconsin since Governor Walker passed anti-union legislation six years ago.

Six years after Gov. Scott Walker and state Republicans made labor unions’ ability to retain members much more difficult, fewer than half of the state’s 422 school districts have certified unions.

In the latest certification election — held in November and required by Walker’s signature 2011 legislation known as Act 10 — staff and teachers in 199 school districts voted to remain in a bargaining unit, or 47 percent, according to the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.

To remain certified, 51 percent of the bargaining unit’s members must vote in favor of keeping the union. If an eligible member doesn’t vote, that person is counted as voting against remaining certified.

This is late in the game for the IEA and other state and local unions to gear up for life under Janus.

I still remember the conversation I had with the then-executive director of the IEA. This was a couple of years before he went to the Department of Education to advise Arne Duncan.

“The days of fighting for collective bargaining are over,” he told me.


Not exactly.



Teacher union collective bargaining is about the money and so much more.


Aspira charter teachers recently settled a contract.

When CTU President Karen Lewis  and former CTU leader – now Chicago alderman – Sue Sadlowski Garza appeared on our radio show, Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers,  the conversation inevitably turned to the current upsurge in charter union drives and collective bargaining.

Noble, Aspira and UNO are the three huge charter school chains in our city.

Yesterday, when I wrote about the CTU proposal that its members work to the clock until the funding issue gets seriously addressed by the Mayor, the school board and the Governor, it provoked some discussion about the tension between teachers as professionals and teachers as union members.

As a teacher union leader, I accepted that there was this tension.

We would work stuff out with the board and administration through conversation.

Or we would make it an issue for bargaining.

I tended to want things written down so there was no misunderstanding or confusion about what we agreed to.

It was different with the school board and administration.

I pointed out yesterday that it seemed that whenever we in the union talked about treating teachers as professionals, the board would talk about the contract and when we talked about enforcement of the contract the board would say we should be professionals.

That is, as is popular to say these days, a distraction.

Teachers in districts with a union earn more and have better benefits than teachers without one . That is not a alternative fact. There is a reason. There is power in a union.

Handshakes and promises are not the same as legally enforceable contracts.

But it is more than about the money.

Bargaining salary and benefits can be easy or hard, contentious or not. One year we walked out over health care costs to families. Most years we sent offers and counter offers back and forth a bunch of times until we came to something both sides could live with.

However, bargaining dollars took the least amount of time.

I said to Karen Lewis on our show that I never understood why we had to spend time bargaining over collaborative planning time, something that was good for teachers and students and meant improving the quality of instruction.

“That’s because they don’t know what you do, Fred,” Karen said in a tone of a teacher explaining the basic concepts of chemistry to one of her less than stellar students.

That is why we did spend hours – no years – bargaining collaborative planning time and the role of teacher instructional leadership

So, we do have to bargain professionalism. There are a couple of pages in a collective bargaining agreement about compensation and a whole bunch of pages about teaching conditions, which are learning conditions.

And I can assure you that over the years we have spent far more time bargaining those than we did bargaining money.

My message to charter teachers is that you need a union for way more reasons than the money.

Although the money too.

Are SB7 Chicago strike limits part of the Grand Bargain?


I just finished reading Steven Ashby and Robert Bruno’s book on the Chicago Teachers Union and the 2012 strike, A Fight for the Soul of Public Education.

It is a worthy read that also covers the past quarter century of Chicago school reform and the role of the CTU in rethinking the role of teacher unions and the fight for social justice.

It includes the dramatic negotiations involving Senate Bill 7.

Recall that Senate Bill 7 did a number of things that set back public education and teacher unionism in Illinois.

It undermined teacher seniority right and tenure rights.

It demanded that teacher evaluations be tied to individual student performance on tests and other performance measure, aligned with the Performance Evaluation Reform Act. PERA was drafted and enacted as law in order to comply with the Obama Department of Education’s requirements for funding through Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top.

Illinois Education Association executive director Audrey Soglin chaired the committee that drafted PERA.

SB7 also changed collective bargaining right for Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union.

Ashby and Bruno:

(Stand for Children’s Josh) Edelman claimed in his Aspen talk that when a serious divergence in views emerged over actions to address a bargaining impasse and the right to strike, “the IEA pressured CTU to take the deal.” The IEA did have a pragmatic view of the negotiations and realized that some kind of agreement had to be reached. (page 100)

The IEA’s pragmatic view, along with pressure from the Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery, got agreement that required the CTU to get 75% membership approval for a strike vote. The requirement only applied to the Chicago teacher union.

Over the course of two contracts, the CTU has never had a problem with exceeding the 75% requirement. Yet the requirement remains a state interference in internal union governance and is intended to undermine union collective bargaining rights.

I am now hearing that part of the discussions going on in Springfield to reach a budget agreement includes expanding the 75% strike authorization to the rest of the state.

In my previous post I wrote about the state coalition of public employee unions decision to have their members do nothing about contacting legislators about these discussions.

“Be prepared to act quickly,” wrote Jim Reed, the IEA’s chief lobbyist.

Turtles have been known to move more quickly than the IEA and the union coalition. It tends to end badly.

Now, the teachers get to say.


Teachers at International High School at Prospect Heights in Brooklyn congratulate Chicago teachers on their contract win today. “Your fight is our fight!”

Some contract settlements make me scratch my head in negative amazement. Some put a smile on my face. But as a career union teacher who led a local and sat long hours at the bargaining table many times, I strongly believe that the collective bargaining agreement belongs to the those who must work it. The rest of us may have opinions. Only members get to vote.

The tentative agreement that the CTU bargaining team will present to its House of Delegates, and if passed, to its members, is theirs and theirs alone to vote yea or nay.

At a time when Illinois has a governor who came into office with a promise to destroy public employee unionism, that alone would be a victory.

Bruce Rauner is a big loser in the agreement that put teachers and students in classrooms yesterday morning.

But there is more.

Rahm said the city was broke, demanded a return of the previously bargained  7% pension pickup and portrayed the board’s early offers as a pay raise when it was a pay cut.

CTU members get to keep the pickup, new hires get the 7% as direct compensation and there is a real pay raise in the third and fourth year.

With the TA,  CTU demonstrated to all that the city isn’t broke. We may not be able to afford another selective admission high school reserved for the rich and famous and named after Obama, but Rahm was forced to open up his TIF piggy bank in order to settle this thing.

To me, its a teacher win.

No strike means it’s a parent  and student win. Our city’s public school kids are in classrooms with great teachers.

Doubt me? You try doing what they do.

Rahm wins too. The last thing he needed was another teacher strike. I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to see an improvement in his polling numbers, which since the Laquan McDonald murder and cover-up, were below Trump’s.

A collective bargaining agreement never resolves everything. That’s why it is called negotiating. What we work for is to make the new CBA be an improvement of our living and working situation compared to the last one.

When I congratulated the CTU on the tentative agreement, President Karen Lewis wrote in response, “Fred, now we need to turn our contract action teams into contract ENFORCEMENT teams!!”

And as usual Ms Lewis nails it.

The biggest winner is the militant democratic unionism of the CTU.  Make no mistake. Without the real threat of a strike looming right up until the final minutes before the deadline of midnight Monday, we wouldn’t be sitting here with students and teachers in classrooms doing what they need to do.

That’s a win for all working people.

What an odd way to support unions.


When union teachers went on strike in Waukegan we supported them by being on their side. Where was Peter Cunningham?

I was following a Twitter exchange between my brother and former DOE spokesman  and current corporate education reformer, Peter Cunningham. It was mainly over Cunningham’s – and his former boss, Arne Duncan – corporate ed reform policies.

Some people think we shouldn’t bother getting into it with Cunningham. But I think it is worth it. He’s really the perfect foil. Plus, he has lots to answer for.

The thing is that if you’re going to get into a battle of wits with my brother, it is good to bring some wits.

Of all the nonsense, this tweet jumped out at me:

See, I have been a teacher union member for over 30 years. And I think they need change. Even in retirement, when teachers are on strike, I walk the line in support. And just ask the union leadership if I want change. They get queazy.

But I have nothing in common with Cunningham and Duncan.

Have they ever sided with the teachers in a contract dispute? To me, that’s what supporting unions means.

Y’know. Which side are you on?

I have a long memory.

I remember 2010 when President Obama, Duncan – and presumably Cunningham – supported the mass firings of 1000 union teachers in Central Falls, Rhode Island.

Those union teachers had the nerve to teach in one of Rhode Island’s poorest schools where test scores are the most problematic. Obama’s education secretary Duncan had instituted a policy of retaining teachers based on the test scores of their students if states wanted to get federal education dollars.

Firing 1000 teachers was the answer to what question?

How was that supporting unions? What change in the union did this produce?

New Orleans. 2010.

The public school system was dismantled and replaced by the nations first complete system of charter schools. Every union teacher was fired. Obama and Duncan – and presumably Cunningham – loved it.

Duncan famously praised Hurricane Katrina for providing the disaster that allowed for the destruction of the teachers’ union and New Orleans public schools.

Please, Peter Cunningham. Stop supporting unions while wanting to change them. It is tough enough already for those inside of teacher unions and who are fighting for real democratic change.

Third NOLA charter falls to unionization.


Following Hurricane Katrina’s destruction, New Orleans public schools were disbanded and all union teachers were fired. The city became the first all-charter school district in the country.

Last week teachers at Lusher Charter School became the third school in the city to join the teachers union.

The Lusher board voted 6-5 to refuse to recognize the union.

Teachers have asked the Labor Relations Board to force a vote.

The statement from teachers at Lusher:

Teachers and staff at Lusher Charter School announced today they have formed a union. Educators at Lusher made public their commitment to stand together as the United Teachers of Lusher, an affiliate of the United Teachers of New Orleans and the American Federation of Teachers. Teachers delivered to management a petition of union support signed by a majority of teachers, teacher assistants and other certificated staff at Lusher. They are now calling on management to recognize their union and move forward with negotiating a collective bargaining agreement.

Lusher educators have come together to improve working conditions, job security and transparency, in order to strengthen the education they provide to their students.

“I look forward to continuing Lusher’s tradition of success while working hand-in-hand with administration to improve our school,” said Julie Sanders, a social studies teacher at Lusher. “It’s important to commit to a partnership that gives teachers a voice in how to best meet the needs of our students. Granting teachers this voice will help us attract the highest-quality and most innovative teachers to our school and keep them. Our students will benefit from programs designed with input from our highly qualified staff.”

“I am proud to be a member of United Teachers of Lusher because I love Lusher,” said Brad Richard, a creative writing teacher at Lusher. “In my 10 years here, I have seen students achieve phenomenal things, and our effort toward greater transparency, fairness and a stronger voice for teachers will only make this an even better place for our students and their families.”

“Teachers in charters are building a movement for a real voice for themselves and their students, so they can secure respect and fair workplace conditions, and help shape professional development, evaluations and other decisions that affect their students. The AFT will continue to stand with them at Lusher and across the country,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Educators at Lusher Charter School will be the third such group at a charter school in New Orleans to form a union with UTNO, joining teachers and staff at Benjamin Franklin High School and Morris Jeff Community School.

“We stand with the teachers of Lusher and with teachers in charters across New Orleans as they organize for a voice in their schools,” said Larry Carter, president of the United Teachers of New Orleans. “We know we share many common challenges and a common vision of professionalism and high-quality, student-centered education.”

“At the heart of real reform is the formal recognition of the voices and the value of those who instruct and care for students,” said Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. “It’s both admirable and inspirational that teachers and instructional staff at Lusher Charter partner with administration in the best interests of their students. We’re hopeful that administration will welcome this partnership.”

Founded in 1917, Lusher is a K-12 school authorized by the Orleans Parish School Board that combines rigorous academics with a fine arts focus. It is consistently ranked among the best schools in Louisiana. Its graduates have won tens of millions of dollars in combined scholarships to attend top universities throughout the United States.