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CTU Strike Notebook 2: Misframing The Debate

"Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said he had thought until Monday that there had been progress toward a settlement, so that a teachers' strike that started Thursday would end on short order," CBS2 Chicago reports.

"But after Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a letter urging the Chicago Teachers Union to end its strike without a settlement, saying Chicago Public Schools students 'cannot afford to be out of school for any longer,' Sharkey said a quick settlement is no longer likely.

"'The mayor today has dashed our hopes for a quick settlement,' Sharkey said."

The media has accepted that formulation unquestioningly, but someone has to explain to me how a letter suggesting that negotiations continue while teachers return to their classrooms dashes hopes for a quick settlement.

"Early Monday morning, Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said CTU and Chicago Public Schools could reach an agreement in 'a day or two,' but by the end of the day, the union's hopes were 'dashed' for a quick resolution as the day came to an end," the Sun-Times reports.

Someone has to explain to me how that letter materially set back the substance of negotiations. A simple rejection of the ask and continuation of talks would have done.

The idea that it's because Lightfoot stated "there is no more money" is a non-starter; she's been saying that since day one and yet negotiations got to within a day or two of agreement by Sharkey's own estimation.

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Plus:

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The Non-Urgency Of Now
Meanwhile . . .

"(Lightfoot) urged the union to send its full team to the bargaining table Tuesday.

"We were encouraged today by the improved pace of bargaining and substantive discussions on key issues, so it is now deeply concerning to hear that CTU is pulling members of its bargaining team away from the negotiating table tomorrow at this crucial juncture. Our full team will be ready first thing tomorrow morning to continue working toward the fair contract our teachers, students, and families deserve."

The union has other plans.

Dear Elizabeth Warren: You're only getting in the way now - for your own political gain.

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The funny (sad) thing about Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders standing with CTU against the Evil Second Coming of Rahm is that Lightfoot is likely to vote for one of them - my guess is Warren - in the Dem primary here. Rahm, on the other hand, would be a Biden man all the way. Everything is upside-down.

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Doesn't this validate Lightfoot's complaint that the union doesn't seem to have a sense of urgency about this? They seem to love being out on strike. Tons of events every day!

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But to Lightfoot's letter, it raises the key point to me that has been left unreported, leaving in place a distorted media frame that posits it is still 2012 and Rahm Emanuel is mayor and his henchpeople are in charge of CPS.

It's the media coverage, not the strike, that is giving the union its leverage . . .

Out Of Town Stupid
I've generally liked Hamilton Nolan's work but he got a little caught up in the action and let it get the best of him because, well, Labor!

"The teachers have had enough. They brought their apples. And they also brought their fists."

Really?

Worse, Nolan displays no understanding of the issues at hand.

A nurse shows up at the school only one day a week. "What - the kids can only get sick on Tuesdays?" says Adesuwa Obazee, a preschool teacher. "I feel like I'm a nurse in the classroom. If there's blood, I put on gloves and take care of that." In her native Nigeria, she says, there was a better student-teacher ratio than she sees in the Chicago public schools.

I don't know if that's true about Nigeria, but it feels like something worth fact-checking; the comparison would be even stronger if we saw the outrageous numbers.

Most importantly, though, is that the mayor has proposed a nurse for every school - every day of the week. This is the asymmetry of coverage I see not just from out-of-towners but from the locals; all those signs and chants and official demands of things without the other side - CPS - saying, Yes, we agree and have proposed just those things!

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Maybe the mayor and her team should also march with signs saying "We Demand A Nurse In Every School! What's The Holdup, CTU? #SignTheDeal."

Worn Narratives Misframe The Conflict
Instead, the go-to frame is to presume the mayor and her leadership team are against those things. Again, I point to Curtis Black's piece in the Chicago Reporter as the only sane explanation of the issues I've seen.

Using the same frame as the one used (rightly, then) when CTU went on strike against the Emanuel administration is plain media malpractice.

For example, at Jacobin, the strike is a battle of "Chicago Teachers vs. Billionaire Privatizers."

I hate to break it to Jacobin, but the school board president is no longer David Vitale or Frank Clark, it is the very non-neoliberal Miguel del Valle. And the CPS CEO is no longer Jean-Claude Brizard or Barbara Byrd-Bennett or Forrest Claypool, it is the fairly (as far as I know) non-neoliberal Janice Jackson.

And yet, to these Jacobin and In These Times dudes, writing in the Guardian, "The Chicago Teachers' Strike Shows How To Go On Offense Against Neoliberalism."

I'd say, instead, that it shows how to see neoliberals under your bed the way some people see Reds under their bed.

Or maybe it's just sheer dishonesty in service of larger political objectives.

Shop Floor
You know who else has changed since Rahm has been deposed? The mayor's city council floor leader, another important member of her team.

"Ald. Gilbert Villegas, the mayor's floor leader, joined contract negotiations for about an hour and a half today," WBEZ reported Saturday.

"He told WBEZ he is feeling optimistic the two sides are moving toward a final deal.

"I got the sense there's a couple things outstanding that are not that big in my opinion," Villegas said.

Either he badly read the room, in which case he has no business being a floor leader, or the union wasn't ready to make a deal for its own reasons. This seems to be a pattern, which is where the "moving the goal posts" rhetoric comes from.

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"As a mayoral ally, he made sure to sell what's on the table for the Chicago Teachers Union.

"If CTU were to settle right now or CPS were to settle right now ... this would be probably the most lucrative CTU contract in our history . . . And you know what, they deserve every dime . . . They have a lot more in common than they think.

"Villegas, who worked for the Teamsters for 10 years and negotiated on their behalf, said he plans to return on Sunday. He says he went to the negotiating table today on his own volition, not at the mayor's request."

Can you imagine Rahm's floor leader, the noxious former Ald. Patrick O'Connor, doing this?

But What About Lincoln Yards
The Lincoln Yards TIF is an abomination. But the union has been happy to propagate a myth about the way it works; the city did not write a check for $1.8 billion to the developers that could instead be directed to the schools. That's not how TIFs work.

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Media Malfeasance
Another thing that has driven me crazy about the media coverage is the way it has functioned as stenographer/mediator to unvetted claims, talking points and spin instead of performing an illuminating function.

For example, I see a lot of this sort of thing being reported:

"[T]he mayor and schools chief said 'we still have not received full, written counteroffers on class size or staffing - the two core issues that CTU has identified as being essential to resolve in order to reach an agreement.' They said 'negotiations must move more swiftly so that we can get students back into school as fast as possible.'"

Geez, CTU, why do I keep reading that you've been dragging your asses making proposals and counterproposals?

And then I'll see a CTU leader voicing the same complaint about the mayor and CPS and I think, What the fuck, Lightfoot, get your act together!

How is a reader/viewer/citizen to sort out the competing claims?

To my way of thinking, reporters should refuse to put any claim in writing or on the air unless it has been vetted and verified - you know, how reporting is supposed to work. You say you've proposed X? Show me the document. You say the other side didn't respond for two weeks to proposal Y? Show me the time stamps. Otherwise, we'll just say you're still arguing about topics A, B and C and leave the claims out.

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To that point, I continue to see the union complaining that they started making proposals 10 months ago and suddenly CPS is upset they aren't working faster. Well, 10 months ago was January and neither this mayor nor this board were in office then. Now, maybe the union assumed Rahm would be re-elected. After all, their candidate, Toni Preckwinkle, only joined the race after he bailed. Lightfoot, on the other hand, challenged Rahm when he was still in office and appeared to be running again. One, but not the other, was willing to speak truth to power.

Time Frame
CTU was out seven days when it struck in 2012. CTU's vision of CPS was diametrically opposed to Rahm's vision of the district. Lightfoot's vision is essentially identical. Rahm was trying to take things away from teachers. Lightfoot is already offering the most generous and progressive contract in history. And yet, CTU is going to be out the same number of days?

Frame Frame
Again, I support the CTU's agenda. I happen to believe this mayor - who has been both awesome and disappointing in her first six months on the job - does too. That's the kind of scenario by which a contract gets done at the negotiating table without a strike - unless the strike is about something else, which it is.

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Previously: CTU Strike Notebook 1: Everybody Is Bullshitting You.

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on October 22, 2019


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