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CTU Strike Notebook 1: Everybody Is Bullshitting You

A collection of notes, observations, outrages and insights in no particular order.

I've heard union leaders repeatedly claim that the team negotiating on behalf of CPS and Mayor Lori Lightfoot is the same team that Rahm Emanuel put forth, in a CTU effort going back to the last mayoral campaign to brand Lightfoot as a Rahm-like creature. I've wondered what this meant, and if it was true because the same folks remain in leadership at CPS.

It turns out, though, that it's not true.

"But who are the individuals working to avert the strike that would keep 300,000 Chicago students out of school? This time around, they're nearly all educators," the Sun-Times reported earlier this month.

Former teachers and principals now make up the bulk of CPS' team, which both sides say is a welcome change from the bureaucrats negotiating for the schools in 2012 when just one teacher attended the talks, and only a second, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, joined in after the CTU walked out. In 2016, three educators were on the CPS team that struck a deal with the union minutes before a strike deadline.

In addition, this time several of the 10 negotiators also are CPS grads and parents of CPS students.

The change is not only because CPS now counts significantly more former teachers and principals among its top officials since [CPS CEO Janice] Jackson took over. CPS leaders also learned from contentious previous contract talks that the earlier people who've actually worked in schools join negotiations with the CTU's teachers and school staffers, the better.

I would think.


"There's also a lot of new blood on both sides joining contract negotiations for the first time, including one of the CTU's elected officers and three of CPS' top officials, plus the lawyer acting as Mayor Lori Lightfoot's representative

"University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor Bob Bruno, who has studied CPS-CTU negotiations for years and wrote a book about the 2012 strike, said the makeup of the teams now and the city's top officials could help head off a strike.

"The folks at CPS who are involved are not as easy to vilify as they were back then," he said. Lightfoot is not Emanuel, Jackson is not Claypool. You have educators at CPS. That wasn't the case back then. I think that makes it harder to kind of vilify the employer. And of course CTU has new people who bring a lot of vitality and energy into it."

But vilification seems to be the only strategy CTU has, regardless of the changed conditions (which include the city's most progressive school board ever, appointed by Lightfoot and headed up by former state senator, city clerk and progressive hero Miguel del Valle, whom the CTU failed to endorse for mayor against Rahm Emanuel in 2011 because it couldn't decide between him and Carol Moseley-Braun).


Maybe CTU is referring to this single, sole, solitary guy as representing "the same bargaining team as Rahm:"

"Jim Franczek is the city's hired labor lawyer since the 1980s, working now under his third mayoral administration on contracts with unions all over the city. Franczek's institutional knowledge is invaluable, and he bargains with a wry sense of humor. He's also known to tell mayors what they don't want to hear. Generally respected by the CTU, at 72, this is likely the last teachers contract he will negotiate."


"Meanwhile, [Lightfoot] dispatched as her representative Michael Frisch, who'd been her right-hand man at Mayer Brown, her previous law firm. Frisch, 37, is brand-new to bargaining; before joining Lightfoot's administration as senior advisor and legal counsel, he worked for the U.S. Federal Trading Commodities Commission.

"I've known her for a long time," Frisch said. "I know how she thinks."

It seems like sending Lightfoot herself into the bargaining room might be a good idea, given her track record at Mayer Brown as a closer of difficult negotiations. If I recall correctly, Lightfoot has offered to join the negotiations, been rebuffed by the union, then criticized for not joining the negotiations. I also seem to recall that more recently Lightfoot has said there has been no reason for her to be there yet because the two sides aren't close enough to a deal. All of that can be true at the same time.


As for Franczek, he made a boo-boo misspelling Stacy Davis Gates's first name on a note he left for the CTU bargaining team, but the CTU response has been over-the-top, in typical fashion.

"A note from a Chicago Public Schools lawyer asking striking teachers union leaders to spend more time in negotiations and less at rallies prompted an angry response from the union vice president," the Tribune reports.

"Rich white men tell black women with children in the Chicago Public Schools what to do all the time," Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said.

I mean, sure, David Vitale, Forrest Claypool, Rahm Emanuel, Richard M. Daley, John Kass . . . but really? Now?

Lori Lightfoot, Janice Jackson, Miguel del Valle . . . the color of the cast has changed, even if the color of Franczek hasn't.

"She noted that - unlike CTU President Jesse Sharkey - her name was misspelled in the note a CPS attorney, which said the city 'cannot afford to have another three to four recess in negotiations while both of you are gone.' The union Tweeted out the note."

Here it is:

So the CTU would've signed a deal 10 months ago if it resembled the deal they will eventually sign? C'mon.

"My name is misspelled. So pay attention to what's being said here," Davis Gates told the Tribune. " . . . His name is spelled right. There's something to this. The city has a legacy, a culture, of putting black women in the position where life is harder, where they have to be silenced, to take the backseat, and this is an element of it."

Davis Gates is right, of course - about the city's legacy and culture. But this isn't it.


"Davis Gates later said: 'If (the city is) openly predicting this goes into next week, that means they are not ready to come to the table and offer something that makes sense. They keep signaling their intention, and their intention is not to come to an agreement that reflects their campaign promises, that reflects transformation.'"

Look, there's something to be said about credibility, and Davis Gates lost hers a long time ago. To wit:


"The mayor is in control of every single resource in this city," Davis Gates said. "The fact that we can't conclude (a contract deal) is about her refusal to do so. This is a strong mayor city."

Well, actually . . .

And by the way, hasn't the CTU, like so many of us, decried the bossism of past mayors? I mean, I know the CTU endorsed the boss of the Cook County Democratic Party, aka The Machine, but still.

"She controls transportation, she controls public safety, she controls housing, she controls economic development, she controls public education. Certainly a mayor who has that much control can figure out how to land a contract that improves the lives of students in Chicago Public Schools."


Back to the Sun-Times:

"Jesse Sharkey, 49, a former high school social studies teacher, leads the CTU as president. He was the union's wonkish VP in 2012 and 2016 and was in on contract talks. Sharkey has pushed a progressive platform that goes beyond the city's classrooms, and though he publicly talks tough and can rally a crowd, he's considered a pragmatist at the bargaining table. His two children are CPS students."

So he's the good cop. Or more like, he's good cop inside the room and bad cop outside the room.


Look, as I've said repeatedly, I'm in favor of most of CTU's agenda. So is this mayor and this Board of Education. I'm not in favor of a lot of CTU's politics and strategy, including their despicable (and continuing) campaign rhetoric.


Here's CTU's pinned tweet:

When I tweeted that out this morning, a bunch of people thought I was doing it as a diss to Lightfoot and a tip of the cap to CTU. That wasn't my intention. My intention was to show that, as I've said and reported, CTU leadership has led their members into a strike in large part because of their bitterness and embarrassment about the results of the last campaign, which has caused internal political strife within the union and a loss of clout with the public. They needed to whip up a frenzy; they wanted that rally badly. They needed and want to flex, for reasons beyond the particulars of contract negotiations. Now a certain segment of membership is propagandized, repeating talking points and ignoring facts in much the same way as Trumpsters (or Obamabots, if you'd prefer), and I'm sure it feels awfully good to fight for justice alongside your compatriots as the only ones who truly care about kids in a cold, dark, greedy, fucked-up world.

At the same time, there is a fair amount of internal skepticism of Sharkey/Gates Davis's intentions and strategy. Nonetheless, folks fall in line when called to do so.

I just would plead, uselessly I'm sure, that CTU members understand that their leaders are as much bullshit artists as anyone else in the political arena, and that their claims be viewed skeptically and facts considered with intellectual honesty instead of through the kind of ideological prism so rightly decried when others do it. Don't be John Kass.


Again, I ask, then: If Preckwinkle was mayor and offered the same package, would the union have signed it?


Preckwinkle, to WBEZ in March:

"I am not going to go [say where my policies differ from the CTU]. I am a teacher by profession and I believe in the good work that teachers do. I know how hard their job is so I am sympathetic to teachers. It has nothing to do with support from the CTU. But as mayor of the city, it is your responsibility to negotiate fair contracts with your workers and to be sure that the taxpayers' interests are protected and that is what I would do.

"You have to make the tough decisions that are in the interest of the taxpayers and meet your fiscal responsibilities. You have to be a good fiscal steward, regardless of where your political support came from. When I was elected president of the county board our first budget had a $487 million shortfall. We cut expenses and refinanced some of our debt. We laid off 1,500 people. I did that because that was what was required in order to balance the budget, despite the fact that I had gotten considerable union support to be elected to the office."


Chalkbeat, in February:

"[C]loser scrutiny of [Preckwinkle's] record shows that at least two of those selling points - her teaching record and her stance opposing new charter schools - are more complicated than her commercials and campaign advertisements suggest."

This is a must-read, if you missed it at the time.


None of which is to say I share the view of Kass or Kristen "Hurricane" McQueary.

For example, Kass writes:

"But with a Chicago Teachers Union strike looming this week - that whopping 16% to 24% raise over five years offered by Mayor Lori Lightfoot just isn't good enough for CTU leadership - every Illinois property taxpayer should be reminded of a theme.The political class and their allies in the public sector union workers, all with their ample, tax-funded pensions, are on one side."

Okay, a 3 percent to 5 percent annual raise is nowhere near "whopping," even if fewer and fewer folks are getting raises these days due to Kass-like economic policies.

Also, I wonder how Kass feels about his beloved Tribune colleagues' unionization and bargaining - both in the Chicago newsroom and company-wide. Would he consider 3 percent to 5 percent raises for reporters "whopping" and oppose them in the interests of responsible fiscal stewardship?


To wit:


Also, I'd like to see Kass reveal his compensation package. I would put the "laziest" and "greediest" Chicago teacher up against him any day of the week and twice on Sunday when he's at church.


Meanwhile, McQueary:

Screen Shot 2019-10-19 at 11.24.34 AM.png

Rich Miller from his Capitol Fax blog: "This same lone teacher crossed the one-day CTU picket line in 2016, so I'm thinking he probably wasn't too difficult to locate. Just sayin . . . "


"As a teacher I just wanted to be with my students, bottom line," [the lone scab] said Friday morning. "Is there no other way to push for these demands? What relevance to the students is a teacher pay increase? I don't see the direct correlation there."

And he's a math teacher and chess coach? Yikes.


So by the third paragraph we can dismiss McQueary's column because the intellectual dishonesty and ignorance is already on display.


But just for fun, let's keep going:

"The kids are the ones losing. I just feel the union has the responsibility, and that they're using the kids," he said. "That's the point I really disagree with. Just to seek a pay increase and all that. There are other ways to fight City Hall."

Just to seek a pay raise and all that.


I might have led with this:

"Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot offered teachers minimum 16% raises over five years, minimal health insurance increases and a commitment to hire more social workers, nurses and librarians. Her budget for this year already includes new money for 250 additional teachers, mostly for special education, 400 social workers and counselors, and 150 office and clerical staff, according to an analysis by the Civic Federation, a Chicago watchdog group."

I'm not assuming it's true, but if it's not, it's in the ballpark. That doesn't mean there aren't still negotiable issues.


"Lightfoot has verbally committed to ensuring schools that need the services will have a nurse, librarians and more support staff. But she doesn't want to put staffing numbers into the union contract because it would tie her hands, and those of future mayors. They need flexibility. The number of students in the district has been shrinking rapidly. The availability of licensed nurses and teachers is tenuous. And there are high schools in CPS that have emptied out and are serving 50 students total. They probably don't need a full-time nurse. Meanwhile, there are overcrowded Southwest Side schools that might need two. School officials and principals should be able to make those staffing and budgeting decisions, not the CTU."

Every school needs a full-time nurse. Kids don't get less sick or injured because their school is smaller. And is there any precedent for a school having two? How many nurses - honest question - does New Trier have?

Well, Steve, I'm glad you asked: It sounds like plural!

Okay, then! And of course every school should have a goddamned nurse. And social workers. And counselors. Everyone (except Kass, McQueary, the Tribune editorial board and Ken Griffin) wants that.

But even Sharkey admits it's not as easy as it sounds; opening up nursing jobs at every school in the district, for example, could end up creating more inequity in the system.

"Last summer, Lightfoot announced a plan to double the number of nurses and social workers over the next five years," Curtis Black writes for the Chicago Reporter in the best "explainer" of the strike I've seen.

CTU is right that this is not carved in stone. But CPS maintains that shortages of candidates for these positions mean that strict staffing requirements could have unintended consequences. New staffing slots opening across the city could result in more vacancies in the highest-need schools, if existing support staff bid on more desirable locations and other positions go unfilled.

CTU President Jesse Sharkey has acknowledged the problem of shortages of nurses and social workers and CTU has offered to phase in new staffing requirements, but it still wants them spelled out in the contract.

So it's not as simple as anyone is making out - but it does seem eminently workout-able. It seems like we should be able to make this happen.


Back to McQueary:

"But the strike-hungry teachers union and its 25,000 members called one anyway, which has now blocked 300,000 kids from instructional time in the classroom. Wonder why CPS is losing students by the thousands? This is why."

This is demonstrably not why. The real reason is that their families don't want to live in hurricane country anymore.


See also:

* The [Wednesday] Papers: I've finally reached a position regarding a teachers' strike.

* The [Thursday] Papers: Geez, if I was a teacher on strike I'd sleep in. There's no school!

* And a lot more including some debate @BeachwoodReport.

* And some discussion here on Fred Klonsky's Facebook page.


Comments welcome.


Posted on October 19, 2019

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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