Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Teacher Work Action?

Being Prepared

Should teachers enact their own work stoppage to tell the board of ed enough is enough?

Forrest Claypool has threatened to lay off as many as 5,000 from CPS schools if the state does not come up with money for the public schools. Any additional cut would be outrageous, on top of the ones they’ve already gotten away with.

At the CORE convention last weekend, a leader in the caucus raised the idea that teachers need to be ready to respond forcefully, in the event that the Board follows through on its threat of a mass layoff in November. Another long-time CORE member followed up saying that unions, by accepting legal recognition in the 30’s, also accepted severe limitations on their power. One of these being that, as a rule, strikes are only “legal” when a contract is expired. 
The union is in negotiations with the Board – a negotiating process that is fixed, in management’s favor by SB7. According to the procedure laid out in that law, the teachers in Chicago may only strike after sitting through mediation, fact-finding and a “cooling off period.” Meanwhile, the Board has felt free to attack teachers – cutting Special Education and other services, threatening mass layoffs, probably to scare teachers into accepting a pay cut and/or hikes in healthcare.

If the Board does something outside of the old contract, the union can file an Unfair Labor Practice claim; if that claim is found in our favor, teachers can then strike – but only over the Board’s specific action. The problem with this is a.) it means teachers accept that the Labor Board gets to decide if and when teachers may act and b.) acting within these rules means waiting on legal rulings, which often take time – which again works in favor of the boss.

It doesn’t need to be this way. As the CORE teacher pointed out, at one point, nothing unions did was legal. In Washington State, teacher strikes are not “legally recognized” – the law doesn’t say when teachers can strike. Teachers in Washington were using a string of one-day walk-offs this spring, specifically because the school board’s would not be able to use an injunction against a one-day action. When teachers in Tacoma went on strike in fall of 2011, the school Board went to a judge and got a legal injunction to force them back to work. Teachers voted to stay out, and they soon won – they were fighting for a pay increase and transfer rights within the district. Emanuel threatened and tried to get an injunction early in the 2012 strike, but the judge, seeing that the strike would end soon, decided to defer, rather than grant him one. 

The Board is likely sabre rattling with its doomsday scenario of 5,000 layoffs – we’ve seen that before, with former Schools Chief Ron Huberman’s yearly “one billion dollar deficit” that would yearly end up a surplus. But if the Board does follow through and try to layoff 500 or 1,000 of us, we would have every reason to act, and forcefully, in a way that let Claypool and Emanuel know that we will not color within the lines, that we don’t accept a legal framework designed to stack the deck against us. A large protest may get attention – but will it be enough to back the board off?

When the United Federation of Teachers in New York City voted to strike in 1960, striking was illegal – striking teachers had to be fired. Only 10% of the City teachers went out on strike – but that was enough to disrupt the schools enough: they won collective bargaining and their first contract. Of course, things could turn out differently – there have certainly been other actions where teachers lost their jobs. But the point is that a forceful action, even in complete defiance of the law, can work in workers' favor. 

If the Board has a nasty surprise in store for us, we should be prepared. If we can have a big surprise for them, so much the better. We should talk about what we’re willing to do, together. Our students will ultimately benefit if we show we will use all available means to defend their education.  

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