Why You Should Be Paying Attention to Chicago

Merit pay, standardized testing based evaluations, privatization of schools, the destruction of public education at the hands of billionaires.  You have been hearing about all of this for quite some time now.  We have been scapegoated as villains across the country.  It seems a day can’t go by without coming across another story about how this alleged legion of “bad teachers” are failing our country’s children and leading to the downward spiral of our once great nation.  If you are anything like me you are more than sick of it and you are breathlessly waiting for “the pendulum to swing the other way” as we have been promised that it eventually will.  Well some 900 miles west of Comsewogue things are starting to come to a head.

Now THAT’S a rally!

In what may very well prove to be a seminal moment for teacher unions and the labor movement in general, the Chicago Teachers Union is standing up to the billionaire bullies.  They are pushing back.  They are fighting our fight.  In case you aren’t up to date on the whole story, here is the play by play…

In the spring of 2011 former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel began his term as mayor of Chicago.  Some of the primary donors to Emanuel’s campaign, a handful of Chicago area billionaires, were the same people bankrolling the group called Stand for Children.  Stand for Children, an Oregon based non-profit group, who as recently as the summer of 2010 didn’t even exist in Illinois, became the best funded political action committee (PAC) in the state within five months.  Stand for Children, in spite of what it’s name suggests, exists simply to bust unions and privatize public education.  To give you an idea of who is behind Stand for Children, one only has to look at their donor list.  Among the ten donors who contributed more than $250,000 to the group in 2010 was notorious charter school advocates, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the well known anti-union Walton Family (owners of Walmart).

While helping to bankroll Emanuel’s campaign, Stand for Children pushed to pass Senate Bill 7 in Illionois.  The bill reformed tenure and seniority rights and made it more difficult for teachers in Chicago to strike.  It requires unions to have 75% of it’s membership to authorize a strike, which Stand for Children thought to be impossible.

The video embedded below features Stand for Children co-founder and CEO Jonah Edelman addressing his strategy for dealing with the teacher unions.  The good stuff really begins at about the 2:15 mark.  At the 3:15 mark he discusses how the press “never picked up on” their strategy to use individual candidates to execute a political objective of tilting their money towards the powerful speaker of the house Michael Madigan.  At the 4:50 mark he talks about how after the election Madigan was now supportive of their “reform” agenda.  At 5:45 he talks about concern from the teachers unions about speaker Madigan “switching allegiance” and their ability to jam these reforms down the throats of the unions just as they had with pension reforms.  At 9:05 he talks about Emanuel being elected and supporting their proposal.  He then talks about the talking point “that we made up and he repeated a thousand times probably on the campaign trail about Houston kids going to school four more years than Chicago kids.”  (That’s right, he admitted that they made facts up to use in a campaign!)  And finally he says at 14:30, “So our hope and our expectations are to use this as a catalyst to very quickly make similar changes in other very entrenched states.”

With the changes from SB7 in place, Mayor Emanuel canceled a promised 4% raise, proposed a lengthened day by 20% with only a 2% raise, sought to increase class sizes, and finally proposed a merit pay system that was similar to the system which had 60% of all Baltimore teachers receiving unsatisfactory ratings.  Emanuel then was featured in an anti-union movie directed by the Chicago Tea Party’s Steve Marcus for the Michigan based Education Action Group titled “A Tale of Two Missions.”  As Marcus himself noted, the matter of the Democrat Emanuel teaming up with the Tea Party to lead the charge against unions is “a case study of making very interesting bedfellows.”

On June 11th, the Chicago Teachers Union held a vote to authorize a strike in which 90% of their membership turned out for.  A staggering 98% of those present voted to authorize a strike, well over the 75% now required by law.

In July, after Edelman had bragged “the fact-finding recommendations, which are nonbinding, will favor what we would consider to be common sense.” fact-finding recommended:

  • A 12.6 percent raise to account for the finding that teachers will be working a 19.6 percent longer day and year.
  • An additional 2.25 percent cost-of-living raise.
  • Step and lane increases. (The district wants to scrap these raises based on seniority and education in favor of a merit pay program, which the union opposes.)

After Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said on June 5th, “teachers deserve a raise and will receive one that is fair. How much that raise should be is in the hands of an independent fact-finder.” However, the district rejected the fact-finder Edwin Benn’s recommendation.

Today the union plans to file a 10-day strike notice which would allow them to strike in ten days.  While such notice doesn’t guarantee a strike, the union is certainly getting close to the first teachers’ strike in Chicago in decades.  Furthermore they are standing up to the same forces that are funding nonsensical and misguided attacks against teachers and public schools across the country.  Simply put, the Chicago teachers’ fight is OUR fight as well.  It is imperative that we support them in as many ways as possible and closely monitor the outcome of this situation.  To contribute to the CTU’s solidarity fund you can click here.  While the mainstream media, funded by many of the same people battling with the CTU, aren’t covering the situation, you can follow the story on Twitter using the hashtag #CTU or by reading Kenzo Shibata’s blog at the Huffington Post.  The CTU’s YouTube channel can be found here.  At the bottom of this post you will find the video “Chicago Teachers Union vs. Astroturf Billionaires” embedded.  It is a comprehensive look at the situation and the forces at work against our brothers and sisters in the CTU.

Oh yeah, welcome back to school!

New Sections Added

Please note that you can now access insurance forms and the form to complete if you have  changed your name or address on this site.  Use the tabs just below the PJSTA header to access the forms.

Link Around

A couple of links for you to check out…

This article from the New York Times details the fight between Caterpillar and the International Association of Machinists that was considered a test case in American labor relations.  The article highlights a very good reason why we need to protect the Triborough Amendment and to have a strong local union, and even stronger state and national unions.  Companies such as Caterpillar, making record profits have fallen in line with many other big money groups to try and break all unions.

Another article from the New York Times discusses the changes in tenure laws in different places and how only 55% of teachers eligible for tenure in New York City received it this year.

Hollywood Takes Another Shot At Educators

Won’t Back Down, a fictional account of parents seeking to transform a school in Pittsburgh, opens in theaters across the nation on Sept. 28. The movie is produced by Walden Media, which produced the notorious Waiting for Superman.

Like SupermanWon’t Back Down negatively depicts teachers and their unions, and is already being used by so-called “reformers” — Michelle Rhee included –to leverage the star-power of this much-discussed film to push for anti-union and anti-public education laws across the country. However, unlike theSuperman movie, this is a big extravaganza with top Hollywood actors and millions of dollars invested to ensure box office success. Screenings of the film already have been held at conferences and fundraisers across the nation, and other major events are planned to promote the film prior to its Sept. 28 premiere.

Meanwhile, Walden Media and Walmart have partnered to put on a high-profile benefit concert around the movie. The Aug. 14 concert — “Teachers Rock” — hosts a number of big names from the music and film industries and will raise money for groups such as Donors Choose and Teach for America. CBS is scheduled to televise the Los Angeles show, which is expected to further promote the movie and its anti-union, anti-public education message.



Campaign Kickoff Event for Tim Bishop

The Long Island Federation of Labor is holding a campaign kickoff event for Tim Bishop on August 9th from 6-8 pm at IBEW Local 25 (375 Motor Parkway, Hauppague).  This will be a chance to show support for Mr. Bishop in his bid for re-election.  If it fits your schedule please try to come on down.  Feel free to bring a friend or two!  Food and beverages will be provided.  If you go, make sure to wear a PJSTA shirt!

U.S. Representative Tim Bishop