November 5, 2014: Chicago Teachers Union to face most explosive House of Delegates meeting since the months before the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012
Having already surrendered a good deal of its political credibility by the work that was done at the annual LEAD dinner on October 31, 2014, the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union is facing a major debate on November 5, 2014, when its 800-member House of Delegates meets. The behind-closed-doors decision by a handful of members of the staff of the Chicago Teachers Union to engineer what I've been reporting as a coup d'etat on behalf of the mayoral candidacy of Cook County Commissioner Jesus Chuy Garcia has backfired in an almost unprecedented way, resulting in the union's facing some of the most serious challenges in its recent history as the union delegates assemble for their monthly meeting on November 5, 2014,
By late in the day on Monday, November 3, while the meeting of the union's executive board was still in progress, the email and phone lines linking union members across Chicago were blazing with discussions and debates after more and more members learned that the NEAD dinner on Halloween (October 31, 2014) had been turned into a mayoral campaign rally on behalf of Garcia, even as one of the most prominent candidates already in the race, Second Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti, sat with colleagues from the City Council "Progressive Caucus" at one of two tables ($500 per table) that Fioretti and his colleagues had purchased. Even those union members who might have considered a honest plea on behalf of the Garcia campaign were angered by the way in which the night was handled.
"QWe've destroyed our credibility," said one union staff member who asked to remain anonymous because the pressures on the union's workers to show "unity" has been more and more intense over the past week. "Bob Fioretti has stood by the teachers and the CTU for years, while Chuyy has been invisible most of the time. The disgraceful treatment of Fioretti can't be escaped."
In the face of escalating attacks on the public schools and the CTU by the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel since Emanuel became mayor in May 2011, Fiorett and a handful of others have [publicly supported the public schools -- and the CTU. The majority of members of the City Council either kept silent during the 2012 strike or spoke in public against the teachers, while Fiorett and his small number of colleagues stood with the teachers, even to the point of joining the union's picket lines.
Although the appearance at the LESD dinner was that the union was backing Garcia, it became clear that the backing was limited to a handful of union staff members and the union's president-one-leave Karen Lewis, who is fighting a "serious illness." Because CTU political support goes through a series of increasingly broad based democratic procedures before it becomes the position of the union, the unexpected push for Garcia on October 31 caught most veteran union activists by surprise.
As this is being written, the CTU Executive Board is meeting at the union's downtown headquarters. The Executive Board consists of roughly 46 people, led by the union's elected officers. Each "functional group" within the union elects one "functional vice president" for every 1,000 union members. For example, the city's high school teachers, who have roughly 6,000 teacher members, elect six members to the Executive Board.
The Executive Board discusses the major issues facing the union on Monday before the union's House of Delegates meetings. For November 2014, the Executive Board meets on November 3 and the House of Delegates on November 5. Currently, there are more than 800 members elected to the House of Delegates. According to the union's constitution and by laws, no political endorsements may be made on behalf of the union except when approved by the House of Delegates. After a controversial appeal by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn at the unioni's June 4 meeting, the union's House of Delegates voted at its September 2014 meeting to endorse Quinn (over the objections of this reporter, who is a delegate).
That was the process as it existed -- and has existed for almost 100 years -- in the Chicago Teachers Union. But when the members arrived at Plumbers Hall for the annual LeAD dinner on October 31, 2014, they discovered that union staff members were distributing nominating petitons for Garcia even though the union's delegates barely knew who Garcia was -- and no HOD meeting had been asked to provide him with CTU support. The main candidate who was scheduled to speak at the LEAD was Governor Quinn, but his speech, originally announced as the "keynote", was pushed back by a speech by Jesus Garcia.
Other controversial things happened just before and during the LEAD. More than 1,000 union activists, each of whom had paid $50 for the corned beef and cabbage dinner, were made to wait until nearly eight o'clock while the speeches were made. A second program has also been quickly created and distributed with the orgiinal printed program at the last minute, making sure that a biography of Garcia was included along with biographies with the others featured speakers -- AFT President Randi Weingarten, Governor Pat Quinn, and Congressman Danny Davis.
The two major politicians who were disrespected the most at LEAD were the governor of one of the largest states in the USA, who arrived to discover that he was no longer keynote, and the Second Ward alderman, who arrived to discover that someone at the union had already decided that the candidacy of Bob Fioretti (who has already gathered his signatures to get on the ballot in the February municipal elections).