Friday, September 28, 2012

View from the Right: EIA on Chicago TU, Strike and Karen Lewis as AFT President

Mike Antonucci comments on Chicago story:
The stars aligned when CTU members elected Karen Lewis and her CORE slate to power. Lewis stood for genuine union militancy at a time when previous regimes were considered to be sellouts.

I wrote back then that "Lewis's election may have large implications for the Chicago Public Schools. Her politics are significantly to the left of the machine Democrats who run the city and the school system. 'What drives school reform is a single focus on profit. Profit. Not teaching, not learning, profit,' she said in her post-election press conference."
I believed that Lewis would join a long list of union outsiders who quickly became insiders. I was wrong about that. Oh, she almost did, but she learned that her muscular activism filled a niche left empty by Illinois and national teacher union leaders. She may be AFT's most well-known local president. [OVERSHADOWING MULGREW]
We all forgot - including me - that Karen Lewis and her slate were elected in 2010 by less than 60 percent of CTU members in a run-off, after she managed to unify all the opposition against incumbent president Marilyn Stewart. By all accounts, the members and various union factions have all been united behind Lewis during the strike, but some fissures appeared over ending the strike. An NBC-TV affiliate reported some infighting, but even if the story is overblown, the House of Delegates did not meekly acquiesce to Lewis' wishes, and that opposition had to be organized by someone.
 ----Mike Antonucci, Education Intelligence Agency.
I look forward to Mike Antonucci's take at EIA on things even though I often disagree. But  the insights deserve a debate. Mike did a number of posts regarding the Chicago strike, some with a little snarkyness.

He also covered the victory of CORE and distinguished them from the Randi Weingarten crew right away. And he gets that Unity Caucus controls the AFT -- I can't tell you how many local and national ed reporters have asked me to explain.

He gets a lot right and when he is wrong he says so. Mike assumes there were some organized forces behind the resistance to agreeing to a settlement at the Sunday House of Delegates meeting. Interesting point. CORE is selling that as allowing democracy to flourish. Maybe CORE is so democratic it allows for internal debate, something that seems outside the pale for people used to reporting about the control exhibited by strong arming union leaderships. (I was hanging with one national ed reporter at an AFT convention who couldn't quite get how CORE could have its people running both with and against Randi's caucus.)

I do want to remind everyone that of the last 4 Chicago elections since 2001 only one incumbent was elected (Marilyn Stewart in 2007). Remember there were 5 caucuses in 2010. With former reformist president Debbie Lynch retired where does that leave her caucus? What about the Unity-like UPC that CORE defeated? And the offshoots of that caucus? Debbie Lynch lost her 2004 re-election partly due to a much-criticized contract in 2003 by the very people in the UPC who had been signing sweetheart contracts. Would you be surprised to see the UPC remnants that had cooperated with the deformers swing into attack on CORE for not getting enough in the contract?

And I will make this point again and again: every ed deformer and maybe even AFT people want CORE out. Would you be surprised to see a Student First/DFER supported group pop up with loads of money to undermine CORE?

I've had these EIA reports saved for a few weeks but thought it worth sharing, especially since anti-Randi people have been pushing the idea of Karen challenging Randi for AFT president (no way). So let's tackle this one first with this post from Mike's Intercepts.

Karen Lewis for AFT President? Numbers Don’t Add Up

 

With a raised national profile in the last two weeks, Karen Lewis is suddenly being mentioned in various places as a possible challenger for the presidency of the American Federation of Teachers. The Chicago Sun-Times asked her directly:
On a national scale, she’s garnered enough interest to run for American Federation of Teachers president. Lewis insisted she’s not interested. The only job she wants to run for is CTU president, and she will be doing so next spring.
“I don’t have any more ambitions. This is it. I didn’t even want this job,’’ Lewis said. “I don’t want any other job, that’s for sure.’’
That’s just as well. Although there are quite a few AFT members who would prefer Lewis or someone like her as president, the internal structure of the union makes it a virtual impossibility. The power base for each AFT president has been the Unity Caucus of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers. UFT claims to represent 200,000 members. By virtue of its size, UFT is also the major power in the New York State United Teachers, which boasts over 400,000 members. The Chicago Teachers Union has roughly 26,000 members.
For anyone to break the UFT monopoly on AFT presidents would require the unified backing of almost every local outside of New York, plus a significant faction within the state. To overcome those odds, plus the power of incumbency, just isn’t going to happen – even if aided by some sort of scandal at the top.
Yes, Mike is correct. The numbers just don't add up and only unless the Unity Caucus monopoly here in NYC is broken there will never be a change at the national level. I think he underestimates the NYSUT totals which I've seen are as high as 650,000 out of 1.5 million AFT members. There are some discrepancies due to how retirees are counted -- don't forget the UFT has 55,000.

Mike's full report.

Here is his post from the first days of the strike:
1)  Chicago Teacher Strike: A Collective Scream. The members of the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike this morning. It's difficult to call this a surprise after virtually every voting member of the rank-and-file authorized it in June.

I am not best situated to opine on what exactly caused the strike, but it appears that those "in the know" have widely diverging accounts of what the sticking points actually are. Alexander Russo, who runs the Chicago-centric District 299 blog, suggests that maybe one side or the other, or both, wanted a strike for their own purposes.
Now Mike hurts his own case by using Russo reporting on Chicago from Brooklyn - I can see Russo from here in Rockaway.

Russo as a shill for the deformers said: 
 CTU claims to have parent and community support, but I'm not so sure parents are going to see eye to eye with them about this.  Didn't see anyone but HOD behind Lewis?
Gee, I thought I saw 50,000 people behind Lewis. Russo can't see Chicago from Brooklyn. And other than some parents the media rounded up trashing the union, where are the parents who are not behind the union marching in the streets against them? 

Score this: CTU: 50,000 Deformers: 10. 

I think it was one of the Klonsky bros or maybe Mark Naison who said, "I'd like to see Michelle Rhee and Stand on children bring 50,000 people out. How about 50? Believe me, if they could have they would have.

Mike continues:
That's not to say this is all a stage play - just that some of this stuff only rose to the level of a "strike-able" issue because of the political climate and the personalities involved. As Arne Duncan will testify, negotiations between the Chicago Public Schools and the union have often been acrimonious, but they never quite reached the exploding point. Few remember now that CTU members authorized a strike in 2003, but a contract settlement was reached soon after.
What's different now is that we live in a post-Occupy world where any occasion for the airing of grievances is the occasion for the airing of any grievance. Some CTU members are upset about pay. Some about class size. Some about standardized tests. Some about Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Some about Evil Corporate Puppetmasters. Since going out into the street and screaming is normally frowned upon, a strike is the perfect solution. Instead of going to work and subjecting yourself to the things that make you angry, you line up with your buddies and yell at the boss all day.
The stars aligned when CTU members elected Karen Lewis and her CORE slate to power. Lewis stood for genuine union militancy at a time when previous regimes were considered to be sellouts.
I wrote back then that "Lewis's election may have large implications for the Chicago Public Schools. Her politics are significantly to the left of the machine Democrats who run the city and the school system. 'What drives school reform is a single focus on profit. Profit. Not teaching, not learning, profit,' she said in her post-election press conference."
I believed that Lewis would join a long list of union outsiders who quickly became insiders. I was wrong about that. Oh, she almost did, but she learned that her muscular activism filled a niche left empty by Illinois and national teacher union leaders. She may be AFT's most well-known local president.
In the short-term, strikes favor the union. Parents don't have any pull with the union, so when they are inconvenienced they complain to the district and the city. The pressure on "management" to settle up is strong. But as the days extend into weeks, and the first paycheck is missed, teacher enthusiasm drops at the margins and the rank-and-file starts looking for an acceptable offer. Regardless of the outcome, both sides will declare victory - even if the strike ends up costing both sides money.
In 2001, the Hawaii State Teachers Association went on strike for three weeks and ultimately accepted an offer that netted teachers an additional $148 per year over the final offer before the strike. The California Teachers Association still remembers Wayne Johnson this way:
The watershed nine-day strike by United Teachers Los Angeles in May 1989 was "a breakthrough for the professionalization of teachers," said UTLA's then-president Wayne Johnson, who went on to become president of CTA. As CTA Action reported, UTLA members won "revolutionary reforms," along with a 24 percent salary increase over three years.
What the union doesn't remember is that the district's final offer before the strike was for 21.5 percent over three years. When you subtract out the money lost by teachers during the strike, they barely broke even.
A settlement will be reached in Chicago when the financial costs of the strike exceed the psychic benefits. The last Chicago Public Schools pay day was Friday, September 7, which helps explain why CTU didn't go out until today. The next pay day is September 21. If there were a betting pool on this, I'd put my money on a deal being reached next weekend.
2)  Last Week's Intercepts. EIA's blog, Intercepts, covered these topics from September 5-10:
*  Unconventional. Education weirdness at the Democratic National Convention.
YEARGH!!! Howard Dean knows not whereof he speaks.
Here is an interesting report from Mike on Sept. 17 where he goes into something that has been neglected -- that CORE initially won about a third of the vote in the first round of the 2010 election and their position may still not be solidified with an election coming up in May --
http://www.eiaonline.com/archives/20120917.htm

September 17, 2012
1)  Who Rewrote the Chicago Teachers Union's Hollywood Ending? Up until yesterday afternoon, everything was going according to plan for the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Having been saddled with a law that required 75 percent rank-and-file approval to authorize a strike, CTU went out and got 90 percent. The mayor, though a prominent Democrat and ally of President Obama, was not a sympathetic figure, regardless of whether one viewed his proposals as fair or not. The CTU president had run on a platform of greater militancy against school reforms such as those championed by the mayor. And, most of all, CTU was ideally positioned to present itself as the successor to the Wisconsin protesters and Occupy demonstrators, holding the progressive line against corporate privatizers.

The strike began with overwhelming teacher and union support, and substantial public support - though the latter was somewhat overstated; a 47%-39% margin at the onset of a strike is not remarkable. Timing the strike just after payday gave CTU a two-week window to conclude its narrative and broker a deal.

Given the stakes, once begun the strike had to last at least until Friday. No major union wants to go through the time and expense of organizing picket lines and rallies, plus print signs and publications, only to toss them the next day. Apparently the district dropped its standardized test/teacher evaluation demands very late Tuesday night, which led to all the speculation that the strike would soon end. CTU president Karen Lewis said of the circumstance, "I'm smiling. I'm very happy."

Of course there were details to be worked out, and a House of Delegates vote to be taken, but the delay just reinforced the notion that a) no one wanted to return to school on a Friday; and b) CTU could still hold the massive rally it had planned for Saturday.

So Sunday's vote was meant to be a way to declare victory, and celebrate Lewis and her CORE slate as conquering heroes. Hence the shock of everyone involved when the delegates didn't exactly stand up and cheer en masse.

I don't have any independent accounts of what happened during the debate, but something definitely took the air out of Lewis and her officers. They went from "We believe this is a good contract" to "This is not a good deal by any stretch of the imagination" in a matter of a few hours. Especially curious was Lewis continually referring to the proposed agreement as "the deal that the board had" - as if no bargaining had taken place.

Ultimately, the delegates wouldn't end the strike without all the details spelled out in writing, and then they wanted a chance to analyze them. Lewis emphasized that the delegates didn't trust the district. Left unsaid was that they didn't trust Lewis and her team to not get snookered by the district.

So what went wrong? How did this get all jammed up at the last minute? Three forces are in play:

1) We all forgot - including me - that Karen Lewis and her slate were elected in 2010 by less than 60 percent of CTU members in a run-off, after she managed to unify all the opposition against incumbent president Marilyn Stewart. By all accounts, the members and various union factions have all been united behind Lewis during the strike, but some fissures appeared over ending the strike. An NBC-TV affiliate reported some infighting, but even if the story is overblown, the House of Delegates did not meekly acquiesce to Lewis' wishes, and that opposition had to be organized by someone.

2) Lewis said that the delegates felt "rushed" and that many of them were not familiar with the particulars of the agreement. That's the result of the high amount of information control exercised by both the district and the union in contract negotiations. It's not unreasonable for the CTU delegates to want time to examine the contract and make an informed decision. Why then doesn't that right extend to the voters and people of Chicago? Instead the media and the rest of the city have to camp outside waiting for the white puff of smoke that signifies the anointing of a new collective bargaining agreement. Every member of CTU will get an opportunity to vote up or down on any tentative agreement. The voters of Chicago will not get that privilege, but they will still have to pay for it.

3) None of the above would have mattered if CTU had made it clear from the very beginning why it was going on strike. The union said money wasn't the issue, and that appears to be the case. I haven't heard anyone describe the district wage offer as inadequate and justification for a strike. It appeared to be the teacher evaluation system, but much of that was dictated by state law, and the district backed off its position mid-week. Without a definite way to measure victory, everyone involved filled in their own bubbles: Recall rights, class size, air conditioning and textbooks were all trotted out, and then yesterday Lewis said school closures "undergird" everything. When the proposal was placed before the delegates, they all wanted to be sure the issue they thought the strike was about was taken care of. All those who have been celebrating this walkout for the past week own some responsibility for raising expectations among the delegates and the rank-and-file over what could be gained. Now that they see the bottom line, many were bound to be disappointed.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, not known for his easygoing nature, was upset that all the positive stuff he heard at the end of last week didn't amount to anything and he lost his temper. Filing for a court order to put an end to the strike was a weak gesture at this stage of the game, and it may have been very counterproductive as it is bound to get the delegates up on their hind legs before the vote.

There is one final complication to consider - as if it weren't complicated enough already. I remind you again that no one has yet missed a paycheck (Friday the 21st is payday). Traditionally at the end of a strike, language is worked out so that the missed school days are made up at the end of the year so no one loses any money - neither the district for having fewer instructional days than required by law, nor the teachers for missing days of work. All by itself this can become a bone of contention between the parties.

I honestly don't think anyone "wins" this strike. Gains made by the "you can't stomp on unions!" crowd are offset by gains made by the "you can't negotiate with those unions!" crowd. This battle may be drawing to a close, but it looks like both sides will finish with more ammunition than they had at the start.

2)  Last Week's Intercepts. EIA's blog, Intercepts, covered these topics from September 11-17:
*  Exactly the Kind of Compromise We Would Expect. Everyone has to lose so both sides can claim a win.
*  New Movie Stereotypes Teachers. Hollywood and corporate distortions.
People We Haven't Heard From This Week. I forgot to add, "those who claimed a strike was impossible" to this list.
Chicago Teacher Caught Altering Grades. On second thought...

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