* 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.