Notes from a dictator.

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Rauner’s campaign turn-around agenda to destroy public employee unions is clear enough.

But his speechifying has gotten more and more incoherent.

And is it me, or has he seemed to have lost some weight lately?

He doesn’t look good.

The other day he was babbling something about Chicago and teachers being dictators.

This was just as 500 Chicago teachers were handed pink-slips.

Dictators firing themselves?

What a lunatic.

In all the years I was a union activist – president of my union local for almost ten years – it never quite felt like I was a dictator.

Like every IEA local leader I was elected. Sometimes with opposition.

LIke most IEA local presidents it was a voluntary position. No pay. A bit of release time.

And God knows what local presidents did before there was email, texting and smart phones to communicate with their members in even a middle-sized local union like mine.

I do remember in my early days of teaching that the kindergarten teacher and union president, Mrs. Burke, would drop off her students in my art room and head straight for the phone booth which was located next to my room.

Yes. A phone booth. No internet. And no classroom had a phone.

She would spend the next 45 minutes doing union business. That was her planning time. She would do her classroom planning after school and at home because the only time she could talk to administrators and other teachers was on her own planning time.

In a phone booth.

Since most locals are voluntary organizations, things don’t always run like a well-oiled machine.

Bruce Rauner may think our dictatorship’s trains run on time.

Trust me. They don’t.

When I first got hired I had to go find my building rep so I could join the union.

Nobody seemed to know who he was.

But he was a volunteer too. So you work with what you have.

We changed that a few years later. We negotiated time for the union at our new teacher orientation. The superintendent agreed to give us the half hour just before lunch on the first day. The membership chair and I would give a little rap about the union and hand out membership slips.

I say “membership chair” as if she had a committee she was chair of.

There was no committee. Like most of our chairs, she was a committee of one.

A dictator, if you will.

The thing about being a union dictator in Illinois is that nobody has to do what you say.

No teacher has to join the union.

Some dictatorship, right?

What our local did was fight for the rights of teachers and against the whims and autocratic leadership styles of many of those who thought they were the educational leaders in our district.

But who rarely ventured into a classroom. Or even had a copy of their contract in their office.

Oh. Here’s some dictatorial advice for some new local union leaders. Always carry a copy of the contract with you when you walk into a principal’s office. Slap it dramatically on the principals desk just before making your point. They’ve never read it. They have no idea what is in it. Make a reference to it. They will have no idea.

I remember many a call to our union staff person who this dictator needed to go through before I could file a grievance.

“Well, Klonsky. That’s kind of a stretch,” he would always say to me after I described what had happened and showed him where it violated the contract.

“I know,” I would respond. “I don’t care if it strictly violates the contract. We may not win it. But they can’t treat teachers that way without us responding. If we win, we win. If we lose, we lose. At least we will show them we have some spine. And our members will know we have their backs.”

The words of a dictator. Who had to argue with a paid union staff person in order to file a grievance.

But the grievance would get filed.

I’m happy to say we never lost one.

What would happen if teachers did what the NYPD is doing?

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Thousands of Chicagoans supported the teacher union strike in 2012.

Yesterday the rabidly pro-police New York Post reported that members of the NYPD have refused law enforcement duties.

The Post obtained the numbers hours after revealing that cops were turning a blind eye to some minor crimes and making arrests only “when they have to” since the execution-style shootings of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.

This, of course, begs the question: What were they doing before? Making arrests when they didn’t have to?

The directive to stand down is coming from the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, the police union, and their leader, Patrick Lynch. Lynch went nuts over Mayor Bill De Blasio’s suggestion that young Black New Yorkers, including the Mayor’s own son, might have justified concerns about their safety when dealing with the NYPD.

So Lynch and his Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association told members to not make arrests “unless absolutely necessary.”

I think Lynch should include that language in their next contract.

Meanwhile friends of mine have wondered what would happen if teachers did this.

But I already know.

When the Chicago Teachers Union went on a legal strike in 2012 the teachers had the overwhelming support of the people of Chicago.

The cause was just. Teachers had made it clear that the strike was for the students and the neighborhoods.

During the strike thousands of Chicagoans joined hands with their teacher neighbors in huge marches and rallies. Nobody viewed what the teachers did as extortion.

While the PBA and the CTU both claim to be unions, there is a fundamental difference.

The CTU, which aspires to be a social justice union, works to be one with those in the neighborhoods in which the members serve.

Not so with the PBA.

So, while the New York Times rightly accuses the PBA of extortion, millions of New Yorkers are breathing easier today.

Local union prez Gus Morales wins one.

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Local union president and teacher Gus Morales (right).

Gus Morales is the local union president in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

He is an outspoken critic of corporate school reform.

So the district fired him.

And the Massachusetts Department of Labor says they believe that Morales has shown probable cause following a complaint by the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

Agustin Morales, a former teacher in Holyoke and current president of the teacher’s union, expressed a clear message to Holyoke Public Schools: rehire him or face the state.

In early July, one week after Morales was laid off from his position as an English teacher at Maurice A. Donahue School, the Holyoke Teachers Association filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations. The complaint alleges that Morales was fired in retaliation for criticizing educational reform.

It was announced at a rally held outside the Holyoke School Committee meeting on Monday that the Mass. Department of Labor Relations has found probable cause in the complaint.

“Based on the evidence presented during this investigation, I have found probable cause to believe that a violation occurred,” Brian K. Harrington, of the Department of Labor Relations, wrote. “Therefore, this Complaint of Prohibited Practice shall issue, and the parties will be given the opportunity to be heard for the purpose of determining the following allegations.”

In the three-page report, the complaint says it will look into allegations regarding collective bargaining and teacher evaluations.
Holyoke teacher Dorothy Albrecht: ‘Teachers – including myself – fear retribution’
“The Massachusetts Department of Labor has sent [Holyoke Public Schools] a message: There is probable cause to believe that the administration violated the law in the way they retaliated against me,” Morales said on Monday. “Because of that, there will have to be a full-scale hearing about the case.”

Morales said he’d “much rather have the school committee do the right thing, put me back in the classroom, avoid the messiness of a full-scale hearing and allow us to improve schools for the students of Holyoke.”

Approximately three dozen teachers, students and activists were in attendance at the rally held outside of Dean Technical High School.

NEA RA. My dinner with Barbara Madeloni.

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I messaged the president-elect of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, “Can we meet for dinner?”

Barbara Madeloni is a Facebook friend who I have never met.

“Love to meet you,” she messaged back.

When Madeloni takes office on July 1st she will represent most of the teachers in Massachusetts except for the ones in Boston.

Her election represents – much like the election of the CORE caucus and Karen Lewis in Chicago – a break from the go-along, only-play-defense MTA leadership of the past.

But unlike the AFT-affiliated Chicago local, the MTA is a statewide NEA affiliate with locals that are big and small.

She and Educators for a Democratic Union – the caucus that supported her – have long been strong voices against the corporate reform agenda.

Madeloni is an advocate for greater union democracy and an end to business unionism – a top-down bureaucracy with centralized control of information and decision-making.

Business unionism characterizes much of what goes on in the NEA and the AFT.

Her election surprised many.

But it didn’t surprise her.

“I was traveling around the state, meeting with teachers and when I spoke I could see the heads nodding. And at each gathering in the campaign more heads would nod. I could see that the message of a union that creates a space for imagining what is possible was resonating with members.”

“Tell me about you,” I said.

“I come from a family of social activists.”

She taught English in high school and was a teacher educator.

When I asked about her experiences in caucus building and her challenge to existing leadership, her challenge to me was to be clear about my vision of unionism when talking and organizing among members..

“It’s got to be done by the young teachers now,” I said. “I can talk issues and organize among my retired colleagues, but it is up to the actives now.”

While agreeing with the need for active teachers to take responsibility for their union, she would not let me downplay the role and the power of organized retired teachers.

The NEA has changed since even a year ago. A new rising class of leaders is coming to power in locals and state affiliates.

And it’s right on time.

Massachusetts’ Madeloni is unapologetically adversarial.

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Barbara Madeloni was just elected President of the Massachusetts teachers union.

This story appeared in the Boston Globe.

Don’t make the mistake of talking about “teacher training” to Barbara Madeloni.

“Oh, please don’t use the word training,” she chided a reporter. “We educate teachers. We don’t train them. We train dogs. And I love dogs.”

Beacon Hill better get used to that sharply pointed, confrontational style.

A self-described social justice activist from the liberal college town of Northampton, Madeloni was until recently a complete unknown in political circles. But her upset election last month as president of the 110,000-member Massachusetts Teachers Association has already jolted lawmakers and officials worried about the dawn of a more adversarial relationship with the state’s largest union.

The 57-year-old former psychologist turned teacher won her race by openly criticizing the current union president, Paul Toner, for his record of negotiating with — rather than fighting — officials on the development of teacher assessments and the Common Core, a set of national education standards adopted in Massachusetts and 43 other states.

Her agenda forcefully rejects those policies, which have gained increasing support from Republicans and Democratsover the last 20 years. She supports a three-year moratorium on standardized testing and teacher assessments and denounces charter schools. Though these initiatives have never been popular with teachers unions, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, under Toner, took a softer line, seeking compromise rather than confrontation.

That seems highly unlikely when Madeloni takes office July 15 for a two-year term. She says teacher assessments and testing are part of the “general assault on public education by people who are looking to privatize it, to profit off the public dollar, and to bust our unions.”

She has a flare for firebrand rhetoric. She recently told Commonwealth Magazine that she wants to wrest the education debate away from “rich white men who are deciding the course of public education for black and brown children.” At a conference at Barnard College in March, she said standardized tests require schools “to get rid of difference.”

“In our culture, which is infused with white supremacy, that’s what white supremacy is,” she said.

Read the entire article here.

Hinsdale board member: Our salary and benefits should be lower than other districts.

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As I have been reporting, Hinsdale High School District teachers gave their union leadership full backing last week in the union’s bargaining with their board. With nearly every member voting, a strike authorization vote received 100% of the members support.

I can see why.

The current board is now controlled by ideologues who are willing to sacrifice Hinsdale’s quality public schools on the altar of their anti-government, anti-tax agenda.

Rich Brandeis is a board member of Cass District 63.

Cass is a separate school District from Hinsdale 86 but is a feeder district. Cass’s students go to Hinsdale for high school.

In an exchange of emails that were supplied to me, Brandeis gets attacked by one of Hinsdale’s anti-tax board member, Ed Corcoran, for siding with the union.

Brandeis is a graduate from Bradley University with a Bachelor in Business Science and an MBA from Indiana University.

Brandeis wrote to the Hinsdale board:

As you consider your options with regard to the upcoming tax levy, I’d like to caution you to consider your actions carefully. What you decide will impact Hinsdale D86 for many years to come. I have heard you are considering a 0% increase. While it may be a popular decision with the majority of the homeowners in the District, I believe your decision must go beyond that factor alone. Your number one responsibility is to ensure that Hinsdale Central and South continue to provide an excellent environment for teaching and learning. You are, after all, trustees of an asset that is owned by all of the taxpayers. It continues to be an asset only if both schools provide the opportunity for excellence in education. If the quality slips, ultimately so will the value of homes within the District. Having Hinsdale Central and South provide the education they do is a major reason people want to buy homes in the area.

Hinsdale board member Ed Corcoran responded:

Unfortunately I do not share any mutual interest to increase the levy and taxes and would like to see you support a zero levy as well.

The Teacher’s Union has delivered a demand to bargain and is aggressively pushing for a levy increase with no basis other than self interest. My concern is that your push appears to be a clear sign of support for wage increases for the teacher’s Union vs showing your support for and respect for the taxpayer. With 75%+ of taxpayer spending going to Union represented employees who are already paid generously over the market rate, and who received large raises during the recession (compounded annual since the recession), we need to show some restraint here in Illinois and in D86.

So since you are pushing so hard to increase funds over and above what is necessary for operations, the main question is “Is Rich Brandeis advocating for the Union?”.

As a person elected by the taxpayers, I hope you understand your duty and to advocate for only 2 parties. The student and the taxpayers.

With the excellent work conditions and benefits teachers realized in District 86, the salary levels would be lowered substantially by market forces. Our salary and benefits should be lower than other districts due to the great parents and great students and excellent work environment/conditions – not to mention the prestige our teachers enjoy in the education community. There are large numbers of unemployed and highly qualified teachers, so it should be obvious to anyone that we should not be paying above market wages with taxpayer’s hard earned money.

I believe a zero % or negative levy in D86 is the only approach to instill proper respect for tax payer’s hard earned money and move our spending in the right direction, since we already have adequate revenue and many efficiency gains to be made. I would also challenge your District to consider the same.

Board member attacks Hinsdale teachers for being unionized. “They’re like Karen Lewis!”

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Members of the IEA and NEA affiliated Hinsdale High School Teachers Association voted unanimously last week to authorize a strike, not wanting to leave for the summer without demonstrating their full support for their union leadership.

Meanwhile the Hinsdale school board has been busy beating the anti-union drums.

Two recent letters to The Doings, a local Sun-Times publication:

One year leading Hinsdale High School District 86, School Board majority members Claudia Manley, Edward Corcoran, Victor Casini and Richard Skoda have made bad decisions. With our highly-regarded teachers in contract negotiations with this team, you should be concerned. Here’s why:

In spring 2013, the board majority forced then-Superintendent Wahl to rescind salary offers (made by the previous board) to nine new teacher hires, lowering their salaries by $3,000 to $12,000. Would you trust this majority?

Did you know that board President Skoda sent a media statement to the public on June 2, that other School Board members had not seen? Board members Kay Gallo and Jennifer Planson objected to the inflammatory content (comparing our teachers to Karen Lewis and the Chicago Teachers Union) at the board meeting that night. The document was produced by taxpayer-funded staff at District 86 promoting the majority’s divisive agenda. Would you trust this leadership?

Did you know that a majority member made negative statements about teachers in a public email? Stating “There are large numbers of unemployed and highly qualified teachers, so it should be obvious to anyone that we should not be paying above market wages with taxpayer’s hard earned money.” Would you trust this member to negotiate teacher contracts for our nationally-ranked schools?

NOT voting has serious consequences. In April 2013, we saw 10.8 percent of Cook and 18.1 percent of DuPage County’s eligible residents vote. The results are disastrous. Now this majority is negotiating with great teachers from our award-winning schools. Are you concerned? You should be!

Eileen R. Meyer

Hinsdale

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In recent newspapers nearly identical letters decried “Illinois-style union politics” in relation to school board business. The letters echo the themes, nearly verbatim, of open letters written by new Hinsdale High School District 86 Board majority members who say they appreciate teachers while attempting to demonize the teachers’ union as though.

The Hinsdale High School Teachers Association is made up of the very teachers these writers claim to appreciate. Our members include award winning librarians, Golden Apple Teachers, state champion coaches and teachers of the year.

When Central guidance counselor Carol Bobo openly shared her concerns about new board majority changes, the board president at the time tried to discredit her opinion by emphasizing her union membership. It is true that Bobo is a member of the teachers’ association — just as is every teacher in District 86. Bobo has also been a teacher and guidance counselor at Hinsdale Central for nearly 35 years, is a state championship swim coach, is a Central alumna and is a life-long resident of Hinsdale. Bobo’s credentials are impeccable and embody the district’s tradition of excellence. But the only rebuttal to her concerns was the character attack of “union member!”

The teachers’ association was formed in 1957, well before teacher unions were the norm. Harvey Dickinson, for whom Dickinson Field at Central is named, was an award winning athletic director, coach and teacher. He was also the first president.

It’s time members of the new board majority and their supporters focus on our students and maintaining the district’s tradition of excellence and stop promoting such a divisive political agenda.

Kathy Wynn Saylor

Association president 2008-2014

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One big union.

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What would have been the impact of the Chicago Teachers Union and its dynamic militant leadership if there were a single united teacher union in Illinois?

In 1998 at the National Education Association Representative Assembly in New Orleans nearly sixty percent of the delegates voted to oppose the leadership’s merger proposal – a proposal that would have united the nation’s two teacher unions: the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers.

Bob Chase, who was President of the NEA at the time, had worked with AFT President Sandra Feldman for two years on the merger proposal.

Opposition to the merger at the NEA RA was led  by the IEA and its President, Bob Haisman. The vote was by secret ballot. However, based on procedural votes that followed the announcement of the secret tally I seemed to be one of the only – maybe the only – Illinois delegate who voted in favor of the merger proposal.

Frankly, as a newbee to national NEA politics, I was shocked at the ineptitude of Chase and the NEA leadership. How did they not have their ducks lined up prior to the RA? How could they not know they only had 40% of the delegate support?

In the 16 years since, some mergers have proceeded at the state level.

Even here in Illinois the IFT and the IEA work together on many issues, along with other public employee unions affiliated with the We Are One Illinois coalition.

Yet in Illinois and in the US there continues to be two national teacher unions. One is based in the cities while the other is based in thousands of small rural and suburban districts.

While the assault on public education is wealthy and powerful, we still function as two separate – although allied – unions.

I was thinking of this as I read my brother’s excellent post yesterday in Education Week. He was responding to the issue of alliances in his ongoing exchange with educator Debbie Meier on the Ed Week blog, Bridging Differences.

There’s no avoiding rural school issues. If I tend to focus more these days on the struggles in urban and suburban education, it’s because that’s where I live, teach, and do my research.

But urbanites are not the only ones pushing back against the corporate “reformers.” We can’t minimize the importance of rural community struggles, which are closely tied to events in the cities. In urban, suburban, and rural school districts alike, issues of poverty and social inequality continue to drive school policies, curriculum decisions, and results.

You say that “choice and community partnerships are easier to work together in dense urban areas.” I don’t know how you can, or why you would want to judge one area to be “easier” than another when it comes to creating partnerships. Neither is easy going and both face similar challenges. Activists and organizers in each have to start with a concrete analysis of existing conditions.

One of the most dynamic and impressive movements I’ve seen in the past year is based in North Carolina’s rural and urban areas. The Moral Mondays movement represents a gigantic statewide coalition initiated by the NC NAACP and its state president, Rev. Dr. William Barber II. It is supported by a broad network of educational, civic, faith-based, labor, and charitable groups across the state. The protests have focused defending the victories of the civil rights movement, especially with respect to voting rights and education as well as to health care, food stamps, women’s rights, and much more. This wide and deep statewide movement has sprung up in the small towns, urban centers, and rural counties and in all cases is led by the state’s largest and oldest civil rights organization.

Check out the post below on yesterday’s developments in North Carolina and the Moral Monday Movement.

These days I can’t help but wonder how Illinois’ teacher union, political and educational landscape would look if we were all in the same union.

What would have been the impact of the Chicago Teachers Union and its dynamic militant leadership on a single teacher union in the rest of the state? The CTU is an IFT and AFT affiliate.

How effective would the pension theft be if the politicians in Springfield not been able to separate off Chicago’s public employees from the rest of the state?

How would the lives of Illinois teachers, families and, most importantly, the students – urban, suburban and rural – be better off having a single strong voice representing them?

Perhaps it is no good pondering what-would-have-beens and what-could-have-beens.

Instead we in the IEA must build our own while continuing the work of uniting.

Bob Peterson. A teacher union movement is rising.

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– Bob Peterson is President of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association.

A revitalized teacher union movement is bubbling up in the midst of relentless attacks on public schools and the teaching profession. Over the next several years this new movement may well be the most important force to defend and improve public schools, and in so doing, defend our communities and our democracy.

The most recent indication of this fresh upsurge was the union election in Los Angeles. Union Power, an activist caucus, won leadership of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, the second-largest teacher local in the country. The Union Power slate, headed by president-elect Alex Caputo-Pearl, has an organizing vision for their union. They have worked with parents fighting school cuts and recognize the importance of teacher–community alliances.

In two other cities –Portland, OR, and St. Paul, MN – successful contract struggles also reflect a revitalized teacher union movement. In both cities the unions put forth a vision of “the schools our children deserve” patterned after a document by the Chicago Teachers Union. They worked closely with parents, students, and community members to win contract demands that were of concern to all groups. The joint educator-community mobilizations were key factors in forcing the local school districts to settle the contracts before a strike.

The St. Paul Federation of Teachers involved parents and community members in formulating their contract proposals, which emphasized lower class size, less time spent on test prep and testing, and increased early childhood services. Working with parents they staged a massive “walk-in” to schools when 2,500 people—educators, parents, community members and students—walked into school in unison in a show of solidarity.

The Portland Association of Teachers organized support from religious leaders, the NAACP, and the Portland Student Union. They conducted petition campaigns and generated public support. Ultimately the school board agreed to many of the PAT’s proposals, including hiring 5% more teachers to reduce class size, and a substantive increase in planning time for elementary teachers.

Social Justice Unionism

For years a small but growing number of union activists, myself included, have promoted a vision of social justice teacher unionism that builds on the lessons of the past, but pushes the envelope well beyond traditional unionism. We promote an organizing model with a strong dose of internal union democracy and increased member participation. This contrasts to a business model that views union membership as an insurance policy where decision-making is concentrated in a small group of elected leaders and/or paid staff.

We also are redefining the role of teacher unions so that we become the leading professional force in our communities to defend and improve the craft of teaching and the quality of public education.

Another essential part of social justice unionism is the recognition of the key role played by coalitions of parents, students, educators and community—on city and school levels. Such coalition work must deal not only with educational issues, but broader non-school issues such as living wages and voter and immigrant rights.

Teacher leaders in Los Angeles, Portland, St. Paul and elsewhere have drawn inspiration from the transformation of the Chicago Teachers Union. Led by Karen Lewis and other activists, the CTU organized a successful strike in September of 2012. The strike won significant improvements in the quality of schools and received overwhelming community support, despite the efforts of an appointed, corporate-dominated school board and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Their strike was anchored in months of member and community organizing, and the CTU continues to organize on numerous educational and community fronts.

Read the entire article here.