Monday, May 13, 2013

CTU VP Candidates Debate a Repeat
By Jim Vail
May 13, 2013

The Chicago Teachers Union presidential debate at the Union of Operating Engineers last week was followed by the vice presidential debate between the Coalition of Rank and File Educators (CORE) Jesse Sharkey and the Coalition to Save Our Union's Mark Ochoa.

The CTU VP debate was almost a repeat of the main event as Sharkey's passionate and vehement criticism of a previous union leadership that Ochoa once represented came out loud and strong.

Ochoa was the financial secretary for six years in the previous United Progressive Caucus or UPC before CORE joined up with several other competing caucuses to upset the UPC in 2010.

Ochoa opened the debate by touting his success in negotiating a far stronger five-year contract, in which a union's strength is measured at the bargaining table.   

"We knew how to take the power of our members to the bargaining table," Ochoa said in his opening speech.  

He asked the open-ended question - why didn't the union ask for a moratorium on the school closings in the contract.

Sharkey followed up in his opening remarks with CORE's accomplishments, which included striking for the first time in 25 years, cutting bloated union salaries from the past administration (which included a $692,000 pension bill for union staff) and fighting hard for public education.  

"The union was floundering," Sharkey told the delegates on May 8.  "We promised to restore unity and democracy."

The first question for the VP candidates was should the teachers boycott the standardized tests such as the NWEA or REACH?

Ochoa was cautious in his response, stressing any resistance should be decided by the union as a group and first negotiated at the table.   Sharkey, on the other hand, said unequivocally that the union should organize a boycott of the high stakes testing (Sharkey once noted his kindergarten son had to take over a dozen standardized tests).

While Sharkey won points with the crowd with his clear and forceful answer, the current CTU leadership has actually taken the route Ochoa preferred.

Rather than organize a testing boycott, Sharkey and the CTU have been gathering information in the testing committee.

The next question focused on how to stop school closings.

"If we had a moratorium (on school closings in the contract), we'd still be on strike," Sharkey said.  "We need to get some schools off the list and I think we will.  We need to push for an elected school board.  They closed half the schools in Kansas City, but we didn't hear about it because they didn't fight."

This quick, passionate response again won points with the crowd.  

Ochoa, however, had a more reserved, and thoughtful response.

"54 is a lot of schools," he said.  "1,000 people will lose their jobs.  They see they can do this under this administration.  We're not Kansas City."

The next question appeared to be a rhetorical question:  How would you unite this union?

"The conditions brought us together (before) for a better contract than this one," Ochoa said to an unusual outbreak of applause in his favor.

Ochoa then stated matter-of-factly, "Excuse me, I got confused by that clapping."

Sharkey then tried to paint a picture that Ochoa is out of touch with today's reality.

"This mayor is no Daley," Sharkey said.  "Before the union called people dishonest and incompetent.  CORE is a team.  I'd like to fall asleep and wake up to yesterday, but that's not possible."

Sharkey then concluded that the the union's fight against charter schools is to make sure charter teachers are paid as well as public school teachers, and that these privatized schools are also held accountable like the regular public schools. 

Ochoa repeated the old UPC and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) line that the union should not be against charter schools.

"You wanted to shut down (charter schools)," Ochoa said.  "We started organizing them.  We could have organized UNO before the election."

The current CORE-led CTU did in fact score a major victory by organizing one of the most outspoken and politically powerful anti-union institutions in the city - the United Neighborhood Organization or UNO.

How bad was it that UNO teachers voted to join a union?

The Sun-Times reported today that Wall Street investors who lent UNO $37.5 million in 2011 questioned UNO about higher expenses as a result of unionizing the teachers, who make "an average of $20,000 less public school teachers.  

The paper quoted another UNO official who said she did not anticipate "a massive increase in the pay scale" that's still to be negotiated.

Score another win for CORE for sending out a clear message charter schools are destroying union jobs.


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