Tuesday, September 15, 2015

HOD Strike Call

Chicago Teachers Union Looks Ready to Strike
By Jim Vail

The Chicago Teachers Union leadership had this message to welcome back its members at last week's House of Delegates meeting.

"Fasten your seat belts because it's gonna be a humdinger of a year," CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey told the packed crowd of over 500 delegates.

Sharkey, who spoke to the corporate titans at the City Club of Chicago recently and sparred with the multi-millionaire governor on television, turned in arguably his best performance at the HOD since his slate CORE defeated the UPC in 2010 to gain control of the CTU.

His impassioned speech, mixed with humor and thoughtful rhetoric, lightened up the crowd and drove home the point that the teachers should fight the Chicago Board of Education's proposed 7% cut by asking that the teachers pay the 7% pension pickup that the board currently pays.

While the board demands teachers take pay cuts, they do not demand a tax on the rich or trading stocks to raise revenue, something the CTU has been vocal about.

Sharkey noted that the board has under-funded the teachers pension fund 13 of the last 20 years.

"This is a crisis by design," he said. "They have borrowed over $1 billion this year. They didn't raise taxes, they just put it on their credit card and borrowed against the pension fund."

Sharkey said this manufactured crisis was last seen in 1979 when the school system was also broke by design, when the Chicago School Finance Authority was created, to address the budget crisis by eliminating 10,000 Chicago Public School jobs.

The union during the reign of Mayor Harold Washington then went on strike for the next four or five years in the early 1980s to restore teacher's rights, dignity and compensation.

"The crisis was whether or not there would be public schools," Sharkey told the delegates. "(Like today) this is a crisis they are using to destroy the public schools."

Sharkey noted that the CTU history goes back to the 1890s, and whenever there was a crisis, "we have fought."

"We're the ones who will have to do the same to defend public education," he said. "I don't relish picketing in February, but we will do it. There is resolve for the union leadership to fight!"

His words helped pump up the delegates. At the end of the meeting many delegates told their colleagues that 100% of their school colleagues voted in favor of a strike. While these mock strike votes are not official, they are a barometer of teachers feelings about who should pay for the current fiscal crisis.

CTU President Karen Lewis followed Sharkey with her presidential report to the delegates, focusing on the nuts and bolts of how teachers should proceed in the face of a possible strike.

She said it is important to work with the parents and stay positive.

"Talk to teachers about your pensions without your head down," she said. "Defending your pensions is important. It is simply deferred pay."

Lewis said she has met with new schools chief and former CTA president Forrest Claypool and said he used to people just falling down when he wants something.

"In no disrespect to the bus drivers and city transit people, their union was just weak," Lewis said.

The earliest the teachers could strike would be sometime this winter after mediation. Teachers should save their money and keep their schools unified, she said.

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