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.


Pankaj Sharma goes to Washington.


Mr. Pankaj Sharma teaches History, Government and Politics, African and Latin American studies at Niles North High School in Skokie.

He has a B.A in History and Education and a M.A in Teaching from Washington University in St. Louis.

He is a former president of the Niles Township Federation of Teachers.

On Monday at 9:30 AM Mr. Sharma will stand on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington and call on the justices to rule in favor of union rights and fair play.

One half hour later oral arguments will begin in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, an historic labor case that threatens workers’ rights to join with colleagues and advocate for the communities they serve.

The Court will be asked to rule whether those who receive the benefits of a union contract should pay something in return whether they choose to be members of that union or not.

The suit is backed by the Center for Individual Rights, a right-wing group funded by the Koch Brothers, and supported by Governor Bruce Rauner, a proponent of the move to eliminate unions, who has filed his own amicus brief with the Supreme Court in the Friedrichs case, a move Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has called unlawful.

Notes from a dictator.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.