Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Antonucci's EIA on CHI: Teamsters in the House

There are few out there with more knowledge and a better understanding of the underlying forces in teacher union politics (more so about the NEA than the AFT) than the Educational Intelligence Agency's Mike Antonucci - once you get past his spin. Mike loves to dish dirt on the unions - he will ignore the most extreme malfeasance from the people running schools while reporting on a union leader who sneezes into his sleeve.

I get criticism from my leftie friends - and my UFT enemies like Leo Casey (I'm too busy to find Leo's links) - for even mentioning Mike, one of the early bashers of teacher unions. I've been on his list since being connected through Sol Stern (I think) many years ago. Now there are some strange bedfellows - but I have had some of the best discussions with both of them over the years. You learn a lot more from trying to defend your policies when not preaching to the choir.

For a while I though Mike had forgotten where Chicago was and was going to send him a map. Finally, his long-awaited comments appeared yesterday.
There is some cogent analysis and truths buried within, though from his distance he is missing some essential differences between CORE and Debbie Lynch's PACT reform slate that need to be examined.

One of his key points is that the Chicago teacher union staff - the equivalent of the UFT's district and field reps - are unionized - unlike in the UFT (I have more info on why and will deal with that in a separate post.) When he refers to the "reform crowd" he means the ed deform crowd. CORE represents the real reform crowd. Call it Real Ed Reform - RER.

First, here is Mike's post, followed by my comments and an after burn follow-up.

The Education Intelligence Agency
COMMUNIQUÉ – June 14, 2010
Is Chicago the Flip Side of DC? Once again, EIA finds itself in the role of wet blanket, smothering the fiery claims of those who want the events in a single district to be replicated everywhere else. Last week I tried to douse the enthusiasm of the reform crowd who saw the DC teachers' contract as a harbinger of the future for other troubled urban districts.

This week, it's the turn of the old guard unionists who think the results of the Chicago Teachers Union leadership vote is a portent of a new wave of militancy from teachers, in reaction to the recent beatings public employees' unions are taking in press and public opinion.

The Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) united other opposition groups and achieved victory for presidential candidate Karen Lewis and her slate. Lewis defeated incumbent president Marilyn Stewart by a 3 to 2 margin.

First, let's not deny the obvious. CORE did campaign on taking a harder line against the district administration, and that's how it won. In fact, that's the only way an opposition slate ever wins a union election, particularly in the AFT.

Few remember now that Stewart won election to the CTU presidency in 2004 by criticizing incumbent Deborah Lynch for being insufficiently protective of teachers' interests. "This is a labor union, not a university," Stewart famously said. Stewart promised to focus the union on contract enforcement and filing grievances.

Stewart was criticized for jumping on the protest bandwagon too late - only rallying against layoffs and budget cuts when it became clear her own reelection was in doubt. In 2004, that criticism was also leveled against Lynch (see item #5, here) who faced Stewart in a runoff after layoff notices were sent to 2,180 teachers and 1,300 support personnel. Lynch appeared at a media event to protest the layoffs during the runoff campaign.

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.

Nevertheless, she may find her platform difficult to implement. It includes repealing mayoral control, stopping school closings and reconstitutions, and bargaining class size. But those will be easy compared to her plan to "cap CTU officer and staff salaries to the average teacher salary prorated over 12 months."

She may get her way with the officers, but the staffers are represented by the Teamsters, and their contractually guaranteed minimum base salary for next year is $101,517.80. So good luck with that.

Lewis could reverse the trend of outsiders becoming insiders, but history isn't on her side. The last "next big thing" was A.J. Duffy in Los Angeles. He survived his reelection challenge, but was also criticized for too much compromising. A lot of same kinds of internal reforms Lewis proposes were instituted in Miami after the Tornillo scandal. It's hard to argue that any of this led to a mass movement for teachers' unions - in either direction.

One of the aspects of the 2001 Chicago election was that the UPC (Unity, Chicago version though thoroughly inept) that lost the election kept control of many staff positions through the Teamster contracts Mike talks about. The old guard UPC used these political operatives to undermine Lynch with the members, though she did lose support on her own. I assume, they will try to do the same with CORE (and don't forget, they will have the help of Randi and the AFT who I bet are already plotting strategy on how to undermine and divide CORE and bring the UPC back into power.) Addressing this issue will be quite a task for CORE.

I saw some comments on the Substance site urging CORE to not sign these contracts. Hmmm. Could be interesting with the Teamsters involved. {I have more info on the difference between the UFT staffers who have no union and will follow up later.]

CORE does not come across as "old guard unionists." From the people I hung with in LA this past summer many of the leaders are fairly young, progressive teachers with a social justice outlook. They say they have been building connections to the parents and communities and to students. Real connections at the school levels, not the kinds of leadership to leadership connections we see from the UFT.

platform (make sure to read Karen Lewis' speech):

Repealing mayoral control, stopping school closings and reconstitutions, and bargaining class size.

It may be difficult but nowhere as difficult in NYC where the union doesn't even have these items in its platform. At least with CORE there's a chance for a fight.


After Burn

I got to hang with Mike in the press section of the AFT convention in 2004 and we had some excellent discussion. It was Mike who picked up the ball immediately when the FMPR from Puerto Rico appeared at that convention with their disaffiliation from the AFT and reported on the rift extensively (though I was too dense to see it at the time.) There has been some glee at seeing the autocratic, blood-sucking AFT take a hit. (Since then through Angel Gonzalez' friendship with Rafael Feliciano, the president of the FMPR, GEMers have developed close contacts.) If you search the ednotes blog or Mike's EIA site ( you can find the links to his reports over many years.

Mike incidentally reported yesterday that he uses the Network Solutions and faced similar problems that Substance (as reported here yesterday) has, speculating that there was no cyber attack on either of them. I mean, who would want to attack EIA other than Leo Casey. Hmmm. Leo also doesn't like George Schmidt very much. Hope Leo has an alibi.

Mike was born and bred in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn and I in East NY a mile or two away, so we grew up not far apart (though he is much younger.) East Brooklyn - Feistyville.
Double After-burn
Speaking of Chicago, my wife has gotten me to start reading "The Devil in the White City" a book about the Chicago world's fair in 1892.

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