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For the Record: Chicago Teachers Union strike votes

UPDATED information in italics-- In a talk at the Aspen Institute in which Stand for Children’s national director Jonah Edelman laid out his organization’s crafty strategy for winning the approval of Senate Bill 7, he says that the bill will effectively kill any chance of the teachers union ever striking again. The bill, which also makes it more difficult to get tenure and streamlines the process for firing bad teachers, requires that 75 percent of the Chicago Teacher Union’s eligible voting membership authorize a strike.

In a talk at the Aspen Institute in which Stand for Children’s national director Jonah Edelman laid out his organization’s crafty strategy for winning the approval of Senate Bill 7, he says that the bill will effectively kill any chance of the teachers union ever striking again. The bill, which also makes it more difficult to get tenure and streamlines the process for firing bad teachers, requires that 75 percent of the Chicago Teacher Union’s eligible voting membership authorize a strike.

Edelman describes CTU’s president Karen Lewis as a “militant and a diehard” who above all would not agree to forgo strike rights. But he called Lewis’ decision to allow the threshold for a strike to be raised as a “tactical miscalculation.” Stand for Children “did their homework” and concluded that if they could raise the threshold for approving a strike high enough, the CTU would be hard-pressed to get any strike approved.

(Stand for Children set up shop in Illinois last year, winning $3 million in backing to push legislators to adopt various education reforms.) 

In order to reach the 75 percent threshold, the union will need much higher participation in strike votes than in the past. Edelman said that the highest threshold reached on a vote was 48.3 percent.

“In effect they wouldn’t have the ability to strike, even though the right was maintained,” he said.

According to the source that provided the information to Edelman, in 2003, the last time the union had a strike vote, 15,965 out of 33,000, or 48 percent of eligible members, voted.

But CTU spokeswoman Liz Brown recently unearthed information that shows way more teachers participated in the vote. She says some 15,000 teachers voted to authorize the strike, but another 12,000 voted no. She adds that information from 1991 shows more than 80 percent of teachers participated in that strike vote. (This information was provided on July 13). 

In the 1980s, during which five strikes took place, the numbers of teachers who participated in the votes was low.  In 1987, about 15 percent voted and, in 1985, about 14 percent.  But in those years, more than 90 percent of teachers who participated voted to authorize a strike, and union leaders said they had overwhelming support, according to newspaper accounts.

Brown does not dispute figures from the strike votes in the 1980s, but points out that 97 percent of teachers did not show up for work, which is testimony to the fact that the strike was effective.

Still, union leaders dispute Edelman’s basic premise that they will never be able to get a strike authorized.

CTU spokeswoman Liz Brown says she was told by someone with historical knowledge that, in different years, CPS locked the schools to prevent voting from taking place, forcing teachers to go downtown to vote. This created artificially low participation, she adds.

Brown says that union leaders do not believe the 75 percent threshold will be impossible to reach. Under the law, teachers would understand that not voting would essentially mean a “no” vote.

“We would not have agreed with this if we did not believe that we had a viable option in collective bargaining,” she says.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS leadership should not count on the idea that the CTU could never muster enough votes for a strike, says Dave Comerford, spokesman for the Illinois Federation of Teachers. 

In the past, union leadership could make their own rules on when they would go on strike. Teachers understood that and, therefore, would not always show up to vote if they knew the decision was going their way.

But he says Edelman’s speech is the sort of thing that riles up union members and gets them to come out. 

“It is that kind of rhetoric that gets people to say, ‘I have had enough,’ ” Comerford says. “People do not like to be told that they can’t stand up for themselves.”

8 comments

Mike Klonsky wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

For the Record: Chicago Teachers Union strike votes

"A militant and a die hard..." That what they called Jonah's mom during the civil rights movement. Shame on him.

Anonymous wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

For the Record: Chicago Teachers Union strike votes

Seems to me that one of our unions' initial action items is to get some of the seats on House Speaker Madigan's new Education Reform Committee.
Jonah Edelman relayed how he had been invited to advice the Speaker on committee members after supporting 9 candidates that tilted his way.

Danny wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

For the Record: Chicago Teachers Union strike votes

Perhaps Mike Klonsky didn't actually *watch* the video he posted to his site.

The context for describing Lewis that way was her tenacity to maintain the right to strike legally. It's more likely a compliment than a put-down.

The most damaging thing Edelman said about Lewis was implying that she had been hoodwinked through her political naivete into accepting something that he himself said was "not strategic" from the union's view.

But I suppose that wouldn't have fit Klonsky's clever little zinger.

Joey McD wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

For the Record: Chicago Teachers Union strike votes

We will get the 75% and more! Edelman will eat his words.

All I will say it again! wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

For the Record: Chicago Teachers Union strike votes

Were is the Obama who said "you just might find me on a picket line!".....We just lost our Union Rights and Obama had notihng to say. Had GM or Ford said we are taking away all union rights of our empliyees...Obama would have been up in arms! Teachers rights dont matter!!

He lied to his voters. How can AFT even think abou endorsing Obama without some concessions!!!

bob wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

For the Record: Chicago Teachers Union strike votes

The 75% solution

Mr. Edelman bragged that the most votes a collective bargaining agreement ever got
was 43 percent. What he didn’t mention or, probably didn’t know is that voting on a
Collective bargaining agreement is not a strike vote.
I remember several occasions when I voted on a contract outside of my school. Once
I even had to go downtown on a Labor Day weekend to vote at the Union headquarters.
This was a useful method of jamming a bad contract down our throats since it took
a motivated teacher to make the effort.
Strike votes were almost always conducted in school after the Union rep’s voted in the house
of delegates. ’I had been in every strike the CTU ever had and from personal experience I can tell
Mr.Edelman that when we go we all go. Most strikes had a 98% or more effectiveness.
I would not count on any different result down the road.

Phil Cantor wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

For the Record: Chicago Teachers Union strike votes

It's not just teachers' unions that should be "riled" up by Edelman's strategic musings. Parents and students should be very worried about a group of millionaires/billionaires from the West Coast trying to dictate how teachers should be evaluated and what rights they should be allowed to bargain about. Do they realize that a CPS contract could protect students from huge class sizes (but we aren't allowed to bargain about that any more?) Do they realize that the current CPS contract stipulates that teachers have to have access to a copy machine (even though we must buy our own paper?) Taking away teachers' rights to bargain or to strike not only hurts teachers, but it hurts students and families... especially in the lowest income communities where schools are sometimes the only resource kids have. What bright young person, in their right mind, would want to go into this profession and start teaching in a challenging school these days? I don't mean just doing it for a year or two and then moving on... I mean committing to being a great teacher and a source of stability and excellence in CPS? These corporate reforms are destroying our schools... and it's not just teachers who should be riled up about it.

Mike Klonsky wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

For the Record: Chicago Teachers Union strike votes

Danny,
No "zingers" here. I watched the video several times now but still don't see Edelman using "militant and die hard" as compliments to Karen. I think he was worried about Karen and other activists in the union, would be resistant to the anti-union bill and plotting how to undermine that resistance.

I also think that race entered into it. I was struck by Edelman's admission that, "we hired 11 lobbyists, including four of the absolute best insiders, and seven of the best minority lobbyists -- preventing the unions from hiring them."

No, when SFC uses generic terms like she's a "militant" to describe African American union leaders, they are not being complimentary. They are being strategic.

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