Saturday, October 5, 2019

Looking for something better to come from vitriolic contract talks

Striking CTU members gather over two days to study the 2012 contract offer before voting to end the strike. 
The contract talks between CPS and the CTU are going pretty much the way I expected and just the way I feared. In some ways, they are a continuation of the contentious and divisive campaign tactics that marked the mayor's race between Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle.
Lightfoot’s victory — winning every single ward — was a blow to CTU’s power and perceptions about its influence. And the union has been struggling to get some of its mojo back ever since. CTU’s dilemma is that it’s trying to wage a war with a mayor who’s not Rahm Emanuel — an enemy CTU knew how to fight. -- Illinois Playbook
The CTU and SEIU Local 73, cornerstones of the progressive movement here in Chicago, both backed Preckwinkle who was soundly defeated by the current mayor. Both candidates ran as "progressives" but in the end, Lightfoot and a group of insurgent city council candidates rode an anti-machine wave to victory.

But as I predicted at the time,
With election day only a few weeks away, and Lightfoot apparently pulling far ahead, internecine warfare has broken out among the progressives to such a degree it's going to be hard to put Humpty Dumpty back together again when the election madness is over.
As we approach the Oct. 17th strike date set by the unions, the past nine months have unfortunately proven me right. The current negotiations are largely being carried out in the media and on Twitter as both sides scramble for public support. These tactics of grandstanding, personal attacks and demagogy increase the level of antagonism which in turn, tends to cloud the real contract issues and the systemic, rather than the personal nature of the struggle.

I have made no secret of my disagreement with some of the mayor's as well as the union's views on education. For example:
I support the demands of the teachers for decent pay and working conditions as well as for adequate and equitable staffing, teacher prep time, and wrap-around services for schools. And as I've said many times, if the negotiations break down leading to a strike, I will be walking the picket line, as I've done in 2012 and '16 with my CTU daughter Jennifer and her colleagues over at Telpochcalli Elementary in Little Village.

But I am also cognizant of the fact that this struggle is taking place within a system that criminally underfunds public education, erodes public space and decision-making while supporting all manifestations of corporate greed. It also encourages antagonistic relations between those that should be united in common cause.

I believe that the mayor and her team are committed to the goal of public education, including racial desegregation, better pay for teachers, adequate and equitable staffing. But how to fully fund all these and how much is contractual and/or budgetary are matters for collective bargaining. It's the very process that Republican governors have liquidated in Wisconsin, Ohio and other red states as well as the main issue behind the wild cat teacher strikes in right-to-work states like Oklahoma and Arizona.

It's these conditions that have led to the contentious relationship between some union leaders and the most progressive school board in Chicago history.  All this, while teachers voice their righteous anger and the board tries to grapple with its own inadequate budget. The only short-term resolution lies in serious collective bargaining by both sides.

The mainstream and corporate media attacks on the teachers and their union have been disgraceful and have made things worse, especially when you consider that the Sun-Times, which ran a greedy-teacher editorial, is partially owned by the CFL.

Then there was Greg Hinz at Crain's who has the hutzpah to equate the union with Trump.

It's also no secret that I've had sharp disagreements with the leadership of the union over their own false equation of Mayor Lightfoot with Rahm Emanuel. I've also been critical of the union's unfocused and personal attacks against, CPS negotiators, and progressive board members like Miguel del Valle and Elizabeth Breland.

CTU mocks Board Pres. del Valle
 The forces at the table at this year's contract negotiation are far different from those in 2012 and '16 and I'm encouraged by the fact that educators now dominate the table on both sides.

According to the Sun-Times:
Former teachers and principals now make up the bulk of CPS’ team, which both sides say is a welcome change from the bureaucrats negotiating for the schools in 2012 when just one teacher attended the talks, and only a second, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, joined in after the CTU walked out. In 2016, three educators were on the CPS team that struck a deal with the union minutes before a strike deadline.
 “The tone behind closed doors is very productive, very respectful for the most part,” said Arnie Rivera, CPS’ chief operating officer. “This contract for both parties isn’t just about compensation, it’s about making the school system better.”
Teachers, parents and community members have no interest in sharpening the hostilities some in leadership seem to relish, or in rehashing last year's election.

I'm hoping against hope that both sides can reach an agreement in the next two weeks and avoid a strike. My greater hope is that the energy and turmoil created around this struggle, strike or no strike, will drive an even greater vision of democratic schooling that transcends the current contract issues as well as the leadership necessary to push that vision forward.

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