The House of Delegates of the Chicago Teachers Union will meet today to decide on whether to accept a contract worked out last week in negotiations with the Chicago Public Schools. Union leaders initially hinted that they would accept the tentative agreement on Sunday while the details got hammered out, but decided to take more time to discuss the specifics with members and scrutinize the deal. This has led to some anxiety from the rank and file over whether CTU will accept the contract.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Public Schools sought an injunction to force the teachers back to work, on the grounds that they were illegally striking over non-compensatory issues, and that the continuation of the strike represented a public health and safety crisis for the city’s students. The judge refused to hear the request until after the CTU vote, and instead scheduled a hearing for Wednesday.
CTU President Karen Lewis made a very ill-advised comment about how the teachers “want to know if there is anything more they can get,” which has drawn predictable ire. This Chicago Tribune story makes it sound like teachers merely have high expectations that will not be met given the need to compromise with the school board. But in reality, teachers are skeptical of any promises made by this school board, which has reneged on them repeatedly. And they have concerns about one area of the proposed contract, which may allow (depending on interpretation) for unlimited charter schools, almost all of which are non-union. The contract terms mean little when the school board and the city can squeeze out the union one closing at a time.
You’re always going to get a variety of opinions among a large membership like in CTU. But they showed remarkable unanimity just in reaching beyond the 75% threshold for going out on strike. And though a few within the union are muttering about Karen Lewis selling them out, the contract terms we know about are pretty fair in many respects. The question comes with the provision of those school closings and charters. Here’s what’s animating the strikers:
Many of CTU’s current leaders helped found the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators, which started out as a book club to review Naomi Klein’s best-seller “The Shock Doctrine,” which argues that corporate interests have exploited crises to push through agendas that undermine democracy.
Today’s meeting is scheduled for 3pm Central Time. The early line on expectations is that the delegates will vote to end the strike, however gurdgingly. But the debate over education policy will not end with the strike; in fact, it’s really only just begun, with renewed energy from the front lines.