Teachers in Chicago could stage a walk out as early as Monday, which would mark the first teachers strike in that city in 25 years. This morning it was reported that the tenor of negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Board of Education has improved in the past day, and parties on both sides seem to think that reaching a contract agreement, and thereby avoiding a strike, is more likely now than it was earlier in the week. However, CTU president Karen Lewis says that the two sides are still far apart on key issues.
Watch Karen Lewis talk about why Chicago teachers are contemplating a strike:
According to the CTU, teachers are asking “for a contract that includes fair compensation, meaningful job security for qualified teachers, smaller class sizes and a better school day with Art, Music, World Language and appropriate staffing levels to help our neediest students.” The Board of Education wants to “add two weeks to the school year and 85 minutes to the school day, eliminate pay increases for seniority, evaluate teachers based on student test scores, and slash many other rights.” The CTU is “also concerned about the Board’s plan to close over 100 neighborhood schools and create a half public-half charter school district.”
Of particular interest to teachers in British Columbia is a tidbit of information that has made its way here through the grapevine: many people within the CTU are apparently looking to the BCTF for inspiration, and particularly to the way in which the BCTF managed its message during the 2011-12 job action. The CTU faces major challenges in attempting to win over the public as they head towards a strike, much as the BCTF did earlier in the year, and they are drawing lessons from the BCTF’s example.
Regardless of what happens on Monday, the conversation surrounding the Chicago teachers, both in Illinois and across the United States, is an important one to take note of. In the wake of vicious attacks on the public sector in states like Wisconsin and Ohio, unions in the U.S. continue to be demonized by the American right wing. The recent Republican National Convention in Florida highlighted the scorn and animosity directed towards unions by the GOP. In his speech at the Republican National Convention, New Jersey governor Chris Christie proudly recounted his anti-union record in that state, proclaiming,
They said it was impossible to touch the third rail of politics. To take on the public sector unions and to reform a pension and health benefit system that was headed to bankruptcy.
With bipartisan leadership we saved taxpayers $132 billion over 30 years and saved retirees their pension.
We did it.
They said it was impossible to speak the truth to the teachers union. They were just too powerful. Real teacher tenure reform that demands accountability and ends the guarantee of a job for life regardless of performance would never happen.
For the first time in 100 years with bipartisan support, we did it.
The Republican Party Platform details the GOP vision for the future of the labor movement in the United States. In a section called “Freedom in the Workplace,” they state:
We support the right of States to enact Right-to-Work laws and encourage them to do so to promote greater economic liberty. Ultimately, we support the enactment of a National Right-to-Work law to promote worker freedom and to promote greater economic liberty. We will aggressively enforce the recent decision by the Supreme Court barring the use of union dues for political purposes without the consent of the worker.
We salute the Republican Governors and State legislators who have saved their States from fiscal disaster by reforming their laws governing public employee unions. We urge elected officials across the country to follow their lead in order to avoid State and local defaults on their obligations and the collapse of services to the public. To safeguard the free choice of public employees, no government at any level should act as the dues collector for unions. A Republican President will protect the rights of conscience of public employees by proposing legislation to bar mandatory dues for political purposes.
In stark contrast, the Democratic National Platform includes the following passage:
. . . the President and the Democratic Party believe in the right to organize and in supporting America’s workers with strong labor laws . . . . The Republican Party would return us to the failed policies of the last administration, vilifying the American worker, undermining unions, and arguing that everyone should fend for themselves. We oppose the attacks on collective bargaining that Republican governors and state legislatures are mounting in states around the country.
Democrats believe that the right to organize and collectively bargain is a fundamental American value; every American should have a voice on the job and a chance to negotiate for a fair day’s pay after a hard day’s work. We will continue to fight for the right of all workers to organize and join a union. Unions helped build the greatest middle class the world has ever known. . . . We will fight for labor laws that provide a fair process for workers to choose union representation, that facilitate the collective bargaining process, and that strengthen remedies for violations of the law. We will fight for collective bargaining rights for police officers, nurses, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, teachers, and other public sector workers – jobs that are a proven path to the middle class for millions of Americans. We will continue to vigorously oppose ‘Right to Work’ and ‘paycheck protection’ efforts, and so-called ‘Save our Secret Ballot’ measures whenever they are proposed.
At the same time, President Obama and the Democrats have angered teachers’ unions with an education reform program that many feel unfairly lays a large portion of the blame for the woes of the American public education system at the feet of teachers and their unions. Furthermore, considering the close ties between Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, with his hard-line corporate school reform stance, and President Obama, it’s no wonder that teachers’ unions are feeling more mistrustful of Democrats than they have in the past.
Unions in both Canada and the United States are facing a tough political climate, as teachers in BC and Ontario can attest. On a more positive note, though, Donna Brazile, Democratic strategist and campaign manager for Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, had a piece published on CNN.com earlier this week titled, What have unions done for us? The comment section is predictably vitriolic, but Brazile makes a strong case for the continuing importance of unions in American life.