Chicago Teachers Union demands that the state fund education and social services

At 6:30 A.M. on April 1, Chicago teachers arrived at their schools to walk picket lines and begin a one-day unfair labor practices strike called by the Chicago Teachers Union.

The strikers were demanding that the state provide adequate funding for public education and social services and that city leaders use public funds for public services such as education rather than for lining the pockets of well-connected bankers and businessmen.

“This is an unfair labor practices strike,” said Karen Lewis, president of the CTU, during an interview with television station WTTW. “This is a call for funding the schools and social services in the state appropriately.”

Lewis explained that the union’s April 1 action was supported by other unions, especially those whose members provide social services, and 45 community organizations.

The one thing that all these groups have in common is that a current budget impasse initiated by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, who wants to cut funding for education and social service, is  diminishing their ability to provide much needed public services.

“The governor has completely shutdown the budget process until he gets what he wants,” said Lewis. “The General Assembly did its job and passed a budget that he didn’t like.”

Now we have a budget impasse that hurts all public services, continued Lewis.

During the strike, CTU held solidarity actions with other unions and community groups affected by the state’s budget impasse.

In the morning, CTU members rallied at an Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services office to demand that the state fund the program.

CTU members and supporters also rallied at Chicago State University to support state funding for higher education.

Prior to the rally at Chicago State, CTU members picketed McCormick Place, a luxury hotel that received $55 million in tax abatements from Chicago’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program.

The unfair labor strike comes at a time when CTU and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) are negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement. They have been negotiating since last summer.

The main stumbling block to reaching a fair contract has been CPS’ budget deficit, which the union says was self-inflicted.

Years ago, CPS entered into risky financial deals with banks such as the Bank of America. As a result of those deals, the school district is now paying unanticipated financing fees worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The union wants the city to sue these banks to recover fees that the union contends were the result of predatory lending practices and fraud.

The city has also diverted city revenue from public education and social services to programs like TIF, which mainly enrich those who are already rich.

One of the results of misspending is that teachers and others who work for Chicago Public Schools are now being asked to work longer and harder for less money.

Last year, CPS increased the number of hours that educators and other staff must stay on the job.

In its negotiations with the union, CPS made an offer that included proposals that would have cut compensation for teachers and other staff.

CPS wanted to end its 7 percent pick up payment to its staff’s pension fund and increase employees’ health care costs. The district also threatened to layoff 5000 teachers and other staff members.

When CTU’s bargaining team rejected CPS’ offer, the district threatened to go ahead with its plan to end the 7 percent pension pick up payment. The district backed off its threat to layoff 5000, but said that 1000 teachers and staff members could lose their jobs.

After CTU announced in March that the union’s House of Delegates had voted to hold an unfair labor strike on April 1, CPS canceled its plan to stop pension pick up payments in April, but it did lay off 34 union members.

Currently, the negotiations are in the fact finding phase in which both sides submit reports on issues under negotiations to an independent fact finder.

While the April 1 strike was not related to contract negotiations, CPS filed charges with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board contending that it was, which made the strike illegal. CPS also sought an injunction barring future strikes while negotiations are in progress.

“We disagree (that the strike was illegal),” said CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin in a statement about CPS’ charges. “The Supreme Court 60 years ago authorized unfair labor practice strikes under the National Labor Relations Action, and we believe teachers have those rights. This was a one-day job action. Their charges were filed after the fact and they seek to enjoin us from doing something we have no intention of doing again. We call on CPS to join us in fighting for more revenue for schools.”

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Supreme Court’s Friedrichs decison allows unions to continue collecting fair share fees

Efforts by wealthy extremists to undermine the power of public sector unions fizzled on March 22 when the US Supreme Court announced a deadlocked 4 to 4 vote on Friedrichs vs. the California Teachers Association (CTA).

The tie vote leaves intact an earlier decision by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Appeals Court decided that it would not overturn a Supreme Court precedent established 39 years ago that Friedrichs was seeking to void.

In 1977 the Supreme Court in Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education ruled that agency fees, also known as fair share fees, that non-members pay to public sector unions for services provided to them by the unions are valid as long as the fees are used “for collective-bargaining, contract-administration, and grievance-adjustment purposes.”

The Friedrichs plaintiffs were seeking to overturn a California law that requires public sector employees who are not union member to pay fair share fees.

Unions said that the purpose of the suit was to undermine public sector unions and weaken their ability to improve public services and protect employees who provide these services.

“The US Supreme Court today rejected a political ploy to silence public employees like teachers, school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, higher education faculty and other educators to work together to shape their profession,” said Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association. “In Friedrichs, the court saw through the political attacks on the workplace rights of teachers, educators and other public employees. This decision recognizes that stripping public employees of their voices in the workplace is not what our country needs.”

“This marks a significant defeat for the wealthy special interests who want to hijack our economy, our democracy, and even the United States Supreme Court” said Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). “Millions of teachers, nurses, firefighters, and other public service workers will continue to be able to band together in a union in order to speak up for one another, improve their communities, and hold the wealthy and powerful accountable.”

The Friedrichs lawsuit was sponsored by the anti-union Center for Individual Rights, which has also sponsored legal action to weaken the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The American Prospect reports that the Center’s funding comes from billionaires Charles and David Koch and a slew of business-connected right wing foundations such as the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, and the F.M. Kirby Foundation.

Fair share fees have long been seen as a fair compromise that balances a workers’ right not to join a union with a union’s right to be compensated for services provided.

Unions are required to provide services to all workers in a collective bargaining unit regardless of whether an employee is a member of the union. That means that where a collective bargaining agreement is in effect union members and non-members share the same wages, benefits, and protections negotiated by a union.

Without fair share fees the number of free riders, those who enjoy the benefits of a collective bargaining agreement without paying for them, would likely increase, weakening the power of unions and diminishing their ability to negotiate and enforce fair collective bargaining agreements.

A union’s ability to negotiate fair collective bargaining agreements can provide benefits that go beyond employees on the job.

“Through negotiations between my union and the school district, we were able to secure smaller class sizes for our students,” said Reagan Duncan, a classroom teacher from Vista, California and member of CTA. “Smaller class sizes help teachers focus on each student’s individualized needs and allow for more one-on-one attention. Parents often thank us for being their advocates in securing classes that allow their children to learn freely and to love what they are learning.”

While the Supreme Court decision gives public sector unions some breathing room, there are other cases that the Court may consider that could overturn the precedent established in Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education.

Also, the Center for Individual Rights has said that it will petition the Court to rehear Friedrichs.

Whether this decision will be allowed to stand will depend a lot on who fills the current open seat on the Supreme Court.