Tuesday, September 4, 2012


From Chicago teacher, Andrew

Dear friends and neighbors,

I write to you because of the possibility that my colleagues and I in
the Chicago Teachers Union may go on strike one week from today. I
want to share with you why I support this strike, and I hope that you
will consider my words as you sort through the media coverage and
other perspectives you hear about the regrettable impasse that the
Board of Education and the CTU have reached. Please feel free to
respond to me, to engage me in conversation personally, and to forward
my message to other people you know in Chicago who may be interested.

I have been a public school teacher ever since I graduated from
college. I've spent the last 10 years of my career in Chicago, and the
last 6 with the Chicago Public Schools. Wherever I've taught, I've
been one of the first teachers to arrive in the morning and, until
parenthood forced me to be reasonable, one of the last to leave. I
approach my career more as a calling --- a democratic obligation to
help level the playing field of our unequal society by working with
young people to create opportunities for themselves. I tell you this
to clarify up front that I am not a member of a union in order to work
less, shield myself from negative evaluations, or otherwise meet my
own needs at the expense of my students, as Mayor Emanuel might
allege. I am a union member because I believe that the union, more
than the Board of Education, will best protect a contract and working
conditions likely to attract and retain a teaching force in Chicago
that can live up to my democratic aspirations.

While there are numerous issues still on the negotiating table, I want
to focus on something that has not received attention in the media.
I'd be happy to discuss the other issues with you as well, but I won't
address them in this message. Please know that I don't agree with
everything that my union leadership is asking for, and I don't claim
to speak for all of my colleagues either.

Learning and working conditions
While a strike would be extraordinarily inconvenient and frustrating
for all parties involved, the district's current contract proposals
are not calculated to retain or attract good teachers or maintain
classroom conditions conducive to learning. In the long run, the
district's proposed contract would thus be more harmful to public
education in Chicago than the brief disturbance of a strike. State law
does not allow us to bargain with the Board about a whole range of
educational issues (like class size and number of courses taught, for
example). So when the Board proposes a contract that makes absolutely
no guarantees about anything besides compensation and evaluation
(which are controversial enough by themselves), the door is left open
to unmanageable, unrealistic learning and working conditions. Since
the Board refuses to negotiate these issues, the only way the Union
can prevent such measures from becoming part of the contract is to

Here's the language proposed by the Board about their authority; I've
highlighted the parts that most concern me:

Employer Authority. The Board retains the exclusive right, authority
and responsibility to manage its operations, develop its policies,
determine the scope of its operations, adopt a budget and decide the
manner in which it exercises its constitutional and statutory
functions and otherwise fulfills its legal responsibilities. Except as
may be restrained or limited by a specific and express provision of
this Agreement, the Board shall not be required to bargain
collectively over matters of inherent managerial policy as defined by
the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act or the Illinois School
Code, including, but not limited to, the following areas of
discretion: (a) the functions of the Board; (b) the Board’s overall
budget; (c) the Board’s organizational structure, including the
creation, modification or elimination of departments, divisions,
offices, sections and positions and the allocation or reallocation of
the work to be performed therein; (d) decisions to eliminate work or
relocate, subcontract, contract out or transfer work to a third party
for one or more services otherwise performed by bargaining unit
employees and the procedures for obtaining such contract or the
identity of the third party; (e) decisions regarding the
implementation of new technologies and methods of operation and
decisions concerning the use of technology to deliver educational
programs and services and staffing to provide the technology; (f) the
retention of consultants, specialists and other skilled professionals
on a contract or project basis; (g) the size and composition of the
work force; (h) the selection, examination and classification of new
employees and the establishment of hiring standards; (i) the hiring,
evaluation, transfer, promotion, demotion, layoff or
reduction-in-force, reappointment or recall, discipline and discharge
of employees; (j) the educational or training programs provided to
employees; (k) the direction and scheduling of employees; (l) the
assignment of work to employees whether on a straight-time or overtime
basis; (m) production and quality standards, standards of service and
performance expectations of employees; (n) the development and
implementation of rules, regulations, policies and procedures
governing employee conduct, job performance and other conditions of
employment; (o) decisions to determine class size, class staffing and
assignment, class schedules, the academic calendar, the length of the
work and school day, the length of the work and school year, hours and
places of instruction or pupil assessment policies; and (p) decisions
concerning the use and staffing of experimental or pilot programs.

The Board's assertion of "employer authority" threatens to make the
teachers' contract an empty shell of what it once was. It creates the
possibility of a principal assigning me to teach, say, 7 high school
classes instead of 5. It creates the possibility of a principal
assigning me to 40 students per class, or any number at all. Such
working conditions would, of course, be my students' --- and our
children's --- learning conditions. It would be virtually impossible
for a teacher to be effective under these conditions, given the
demands of lesson preparation, photocopying, grading, and building
relationships. It is equally difficult to imagine my own children
achieving their potential under these circumstances.

I refuse to approve a contract that makes these conditions possible.

On this Labor Day, I hope you will take a moment to consider my
perspective on the looming strike. One week from now, I hope to be at
school, working with my students. But I will strike now if I have to
so that I can protect my ability to work effectively with my future
students as well.



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