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Let it play out a bit more

Monday, Apr 4, 2016

* Gov. Bruce Rauner’s full statement on the Chicago Teachers Union’s one-day walkout last Friday…

“It’s shameful that Chicago’s children are the victims in this raw display of political power. Walking out on kids in the classroom, leaving parents in the lurch and thumbing their nose at taxpayers — it’s the height of arrogance from those we’ve entrusted with our children’s futures. By breaking the law in Chicago and forcing passage of a bad law in Springfield, powerful bosses are proving they have an unfair advantage over Illinois families. When we lose the balance between taxpayers and special interests, property taxes go up and the quality of education goes down.”

* And then

“We are outside the state of Illinois building. Why? Because the governor of this state has decided to hold everybody hostage,” [CTU President Karen Lewis] told the crowd. “He’s a terrorist. And he calls me names.”


* With one major caveat, my own views are close to those of Greg Hinz

The truth is that the April 1 “Day of Action” is at least as much about internal CTU politics as it is about carving out a path to success—and that’s no joke.

Though CTU has strived mightily to extend the upcoming protest into a sort of mini-general strike, the action is a reaction to the stalled negotiations with CPS.

The union is playing defense in the current round of talks, attempting to protect things such as annual “step-and-lane” pay hikes and the fact that workers now pay only 2 percent of salary toward their generous pensions. Unions don’t like playing defense—especially a union led by Karen Lewis. But the fact is, CPS is effectively broke, its debt so much junk. The only true exit route runs through Springfield.

Now Lewis, however much she adopts the stance of a provocateur, is smart enough to know that the CPS’ options are limited. That’s why she and her leadership crew agreed several weeks ago to major concessions, particularly on the pension side, as part of a new contract.

But Lewis’ members aren’t as smart. Presented with the deal she negotiated, they revolted. The CTU’s expanded bargaining committee unanimously rejected the package, sending a message to Lewis that, if she wants to be re-elected as president in late May, something will have to change.

Voila, the upcoming Day of Action. A bit of red meat for the CTU’s militant wing.

CTU Vice President Jessie Sharkey disagrees. He terms such a theory “wrong.” If the idea was to shore up Lewis’ militant credentials, the union would walk for real on May 20—a few days before the CTU elections—when even CPS agrees that a contract strike would be legal, Sharkey said.

It’s not that Lewis’ members aren’t “smart,” they’re just very, very angry (and for good reason, just look around Chicago right now). Angry people don’t always think too clearly.

* To my mind, anyway, this strike was about “member management.” I think Lewis showed her pragmatic side when she cut a deal with CPS just ahead of the big bond sale. In order to get back to the neighborhood of that deal, she has to first let her members blow off some steam and demonstrate she’s solidly in their corner (ergo, Rauner as “terrorist”).

After the primary, when support for the CTU and an endorsement by the union were both viewed as highly positive by Democratic legislative incumbents and candidates (including Speaker Madigan), the union leadership knew there was little to no immediate danger of sparking a General Assembly backlash with a one-day walkout.

But they need to eventually make a deal, or there could be consequences. I think Lewis understands this. So, the process is going to take some time. The framework of the final agreement will have to be altered, but I do not yet see Friday’s walkout as a harbinger of doom.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - 47th Ward - Monday, Apr 4, 16 @ 10:53 am:

    Interesting angle, and I think you and Hinz are probably right. As for whether the rank and file are smart or simply angry, I think it’s both.

    The rank and file have been somewhat conditioned over the years, so getting them angry isn’t terribly difficult. A new contract with no raises will also accomplish a lot of anger. But I’m encouraged that you seem to believe Lewis understands that beating up CPS only gets you applause. It won’t result in more money because CPS needs voter approval to raise the property tax high enough to pay both the pensions and a modest salary hike.

    So CPS can’t unilaterally raise enough revenue to fund what CTU members would consider a reasonable contract. The state is no closer to hiking taxes enough to provide more funding for education anywhere, let alone Chicago. It’s a very interesting dynamic at play here.

    From what I’ve seen though, CTU has made enormous progress at replacing the Mayor as the dominant political force in Chicago. The state reps I pay the most attention to have clearly adopted the CTU message and I’d expect them to vote accordingly.

    Who knows, if they’re really clever, maybe they’ll get a tax cap exception for CPS when the grand bargain eventually comes together? That’d be a neat trick.

  2. - Anonymous - Monday, Apr 4, 16 @ 10:55 am:

    I’m not sure that giving a microphone to a CTU member who shouts “F$&k the police” will win support for the teachers. But then again these are strange times.

  3. - Lucky Pierre - Monday, Apr 4, 16 @ 10:56 am:

    The fact that Karen Lewis is now thought to be pragmatic as opposed to the militant wing of CTU is really idicative of how far left the union has gone. There are posters in the schools blaming Governor Rauner, Mayor Emmanuel and Ken Griffin for all the problems in Chicago and CPS. Strangely the Speaker and Senate President are not mentioned even though the problems predate both Rauner and Emmanuel.

    Maybe a math teacher can explain to the union that a 2 percent pension pickup for extremely generous healthcare and retirement benefits is unsustainable. The rest of Illinois residents pay 6.2% for a Social Security benefit that is bare bones.

  4. - Wensicia - Monday, Apr 4, 16 @ 11:05 am:

    Internal union politics are often as nasty as party politics. I believe this one day walkout was instigated by the anger of many within the membership, anger fueled by other leaders within CTU. I don’t believe all teachers were on board. Many see this posturing as damaging rather than helpful. But, union members expect their leaders to deliver. Lewis couldn’t give them the contract they wanted, so she gave a venue to vent their anger instead.

  5. - From the 'Dale to HP - Monday, Apr 4, 16 @ 11:10 am:

    Agree with Rich, this was a chance to let the members blow off some steam. Now that it’s out of the way, hopefully they can get back to the bargaining table.

    I do think it’s worth considering why teachers are mad. Simply saying “don’t be mad” or “their benefits are too good” isn’t fair or necessarily right. I think most teachers look at CPS and see an institution that has been horribly managed for a while now (six CEOs in eight years, financial disaster, charters, etc) and they’re mad about because kids and their jobs are suffering for it.

  6. - Demoralized - Monday, Apr 4, 16 @ 11:11 am:

    ==The rest of Illinois residents pay 6.2% for a Social Security benefit that is bare bones.==

    The Social Security argument is just silly when it comes to a discussion on pensions.

    ==extremely generous==

    And this whining about “extremely generous” benefits is also tiring. If you don’t like your lot in life when it comes to benefits then find another job with better benefits. Stop whining about what someone else receives.

  7. - Gruntled University Employee - Monday, Apr 4, 16 @ 11:14 am:

    Back in 2012 candidate Rauner laid out his plan to drive a wedge between the Democrats, to make them choose between Social Services and the Unions, assuming that they would chose the former over the latter. But what if the Democrats have already made that choice? Is it impossible to believe that they took a look at the economics of the situation and determined that the neediest people in this State don’t fund their elections? Is it impossible to believe that the Democrats made a “life or death” decision about the future of their party based on their wallets and not their hearts? It seems to me that Governor Rauner has the answer to this dilemma that he created, it’s just not the answer that he counted on.

  8. - Chris - Monday, Apr 4, 16 @ 11:19 am:

    ” If you don’t like your lot in life when it comes to benefits then find another job with better benefits. Stop whining about what someone else receives.”

    Will public sector workers stop comparing their pay to what they “could make” in the private sector?

  9. - Beaner - Monday, Apr 4, 16 @ 11:24 am:

    Is it just me, or is anyone else creeped out by the Governor’s endless Orwellian speech and its parroting by the media?

  10. - Century Club - Monday, Apr 4, 16 @ 11:25 am:

    Well, let’s be honest here, CPS went nuclear immediately after CTU rejected the offer by unilaterally ending the pension pickup (which they restored after backlash) and pay increases.

    CTU articulated the problems with the deal on the table: it was a cuts-only deal that included no new revenue for CPS, the retirement program would force out too many teachers and left the contract vulnerable to be re-opened, and CPS’s pledge to curtail charters is meaningless as long as Rauner controls the state charter commission.

    For Hinz to say these teachers aren’t smart is laughable.

  11. - Robert the 1st - Monday, Apr 4, 16 @ 11:26 am:

    Are you new Chris?

    It’s blasphemy here to ever suggest public employees, instead of “whining” or striking, go and find a better job. Yet, if anyone ever comments on the generous benefits of government workers, the first replies are always for that person to better themselves and seek new employment.

  12. - CTU Member - Monday, Apr 4, 16 @ 11:34 am:

    As a CTU member I was against the Day of Action before I was for it i.e. I voted against it and thought it a bad idea then was genuinely inspired by the massive amount of people gathering first at Northeastern and then downtown. For the record I think my pay is good but working conditions bad. And am mad as all hell that the city council and mayor refuse to release more TIF Surplus funds to address the problem in the short term.

  13. - ChrisB - Monday, Apr 4, 16 @ 11:50 am:

    @Demoralized == “Stop whining about what someone else receives.”

    It’s a legitimate discussion point when we’re being asked to pick up the tab.

  14. - Anonymous - Monday, Apr 4, 16 @ 12:21 pm:

    =Well, let’s be honest here, CPS went nuclear immediately after CTU rejected the offer by unilaterally ending the pension pickup (which they restored after backlash) and pay increases.=

    Let’s be honest here. The pension pick up expired on June 30. CPS has every right to stop paying it, unless or until it’s negotiated into a new contract package. And with CPS close to running out of cash before June 30, when it owes $700 million to the generous teacher pensions, it needs every dollar in the meantime. The fact they’ve held off as the bargaining process is completed shows restraint, not a “nuclear” response.

  15. - Wensicia - Monday, Apr 4, 16 @ 12:30 pm:

    ==The pension pick up expired on June 30.==

    No, the terms of the previous contract stay in effect until a new contract is approved and signed by both sides.

  16. - 13th Ward - Monday, Apr 4, 16 @ 12:30 pm:

    The FY16 budget impasse has not caused the CPS financial meltdown. CPS gets every penny the Madigan/Cullerton majority voted for them and the Governor signed. But they want more.

  17. - HangingOn - Monday, Apr 4, 16 @ 12:39 pm:

    ==Will public sector workers stop comparing their pay to what they “could make” in the private sector?==

    I started as a temp for the state in 2010 and never once heard anyone complain about getting paid less than they could in private sector. We lost some people to the private sector, though. That whole argument came up recently when Rauner claimed state workers are overpaid, while then paying his own staff more than the past administration, claiming they needed more money because they got paid more in the private sector.

  18. - JS Mill - Monday, Apr 4, 16 @ 12:46 pm:

    =Maybe a math teacher can explain to the union that a 2 percent pension pickup for extremely generous healthcare and retirement benefits is unsustainable. The rest of Illinois residents pay 6.2% for a Social Security benefit that is bare bones.=

    For you and Robert, life is such a tragedy. No one ever in the private sector ever received a salary or benefits. If the did, they were never “generous”. The tragedy of the private sector workers is Shakespearean. /s

    You are the type of people that want the services you want, and you want them on the cheap. And you are exactly the driving force for the economic struggles we face.

  19. - AnonChicagoan - Monday, Apr 4, 16 @ 1:08 pm:

    This “general-esque” one-day strike was the brain child of VP Jesse Sharkey, a self-identified socialist. He was promoting the April 1 Day of Action to CTU’s community allies prior to union members rejecting the contract deal. This one-day strike was about moving the conversation and politics in Chicago to the left.

  20. - Demoralized - Monday, Apr 4, 16 @ 2:03 pm:

    Robert the 1st:

    Difference between your argument and my argument is that you want to take something away from someone. I don’t.

  21. - wordslinger - Monday, Apr 4, 16 @ 2:10 pm:

    Much ado about a one-day walkout.

    Gave both Rauner and Lewis a chance to throw some red meat around.

  22. - Anonymous - Monday, Apr 4, 16 @ 2:11 pm:

    =No, the terms of the previous contract stay in effect until a new contract is approved and signed by both sides.=

    True, except when the contract provides a specific sunset date for a provision. The contract provided a specific sunset date for the pension pick-up.

  23. - iknowCTU - Monday, Apr 4, 16 @ 4:03 pm:

    If you think the one day strike was to ensure Karen Lewis’ reelection, you don’t know the CTU. The deadline for petitions to run for CTU office was March 28, days before the walk-out and months after it was planned. Guess what? The only members who filed petitions for president and vice president are Karen Lewis and Jesse Sharkey. They didn’t “need” to stage a walk-out to get reelected.

  24. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 4, 16 @ 4:05 pm:

    ===They didn’t “need” to stage a walk-out to get reelected.===

    Correct. But I think she needed to stage a walkout to eventually get to a resolution, which is what I wrote.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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