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  October 11, 2016

Chicago Teachers Win More School Funding Without a Strike

Jacobin's Micah Uetricht explains why the concessions won by the teachers are credit to its militant leadership and why the union's democratic nature might spur some teachers to reject the deal
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Micah Uetricht is an associate editor of Jacobin magazine. He is the author of Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity.

Jaisal Noor is a producer for The Real News Network. His stories have appeared on Democracy Now!, Free Speech Radio News and other independent news outlets. Jaisal was raised in the Baltimore-area, and has a degree in history from the University of Maryland, College Park.


JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: It came down to the final hour of negotiations but a Chicago teachers’ strike has been narrowly averted, for now. The Chicago Teachers Union had set Tuesday the 11th as the strike deadline but a tentative contract was reached around midnight, Monday. The full details of the agreement have not yet been made public and to be finalized it still needs approval of the Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates and full membership.

It appears both sides have made significant concessions, and we’ll get into those in a moment. But author and journalist Micah Uetricht argues the union’s militant leadership by president Karen Lewis and CORE, the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators, deserves credit for the concessions made by mayor Rahm Emmanuel.

MICAH UETRICHT: The reason that the union is talking about things today -- like big picture ideas like reversing austerity – is because this caucus took over in 2010. So, the union was able to win what it was able to win at the bargaining table because of the credible threat of a strike. Everyone realized that the union was willing to walk off the job this morning if they didn’t get what they wanted and that really lit a fire under Chicago public schools to cough up things like a huge chunk of TIF money to go to the school.

NOOR: A key demand in the negotiations was an increase in school funding, which would seem like a challenge in cash-strapped Chicago. The union demanded this be done through surplus Tax Increment Finance or TIF funds, which are traditionally reserved for corporations and developers. We recently talked to Chicago teacher and CORE member, Sarah Chambers about the impact of the lack of funding.

SARAH CHAMBERS: The schools were bare bones, we can’t take any more cuts. At my school -- with 1200 students -- we only have a nurse for about 2 days a week. Many schools only have 1 counselor. We’re 600 schools now and we only have librarians in 1/4 of the schools. A majority of our schools don’t even have librarians and our class sizes are skyrocketing.

NOOR: News outlets have reported the contracts awards around $75 million in TIF funds to city schools. The union had been demanding $200 million.

UETRICHT: The debate over here was that roughly $200 million was in the TIF surplus. Rather than the city being able to hold on to that money – keep it in the bank for a rainy day – the CTU forced Rahm Emanuel to give up some of that money and give it back to the schools.

NOOR: A major concession for the union is that the city will no longer contribute to pensions of new-hires but they will be giving new-hires additional compensation to make up for it. This had been a key sticking point for the union.

UETRICHT: I spoke to a teacher today about this – a young teacher – about whether or not this was a significant issue because in other unions, when you introduced 2-tier pensions systems, it can reduce the solidarity in work force. It can make the young workers resentful of the older workers. She didn’t seem to think that it was a big problem. Mostly, because there is this added compensation that were for younger teachers. But it is something that we should definitely keep an eye on because the union had said – and this is one of the major sticking points of the contract negotiations.

NOOR: Some are also concerned if the contract does enough to fight austerity.

UETRICHT: The teacher I spoke with earlier today was concerned that they had not won as much as they could have on some of the big picture issues about reversing austerity, wanting to end some of the disparities in special education funding. Things like that. The contract is hot off the press, so it’s hard to issue a final judgment on it, now, everyone acknowledges that it is not a perfect document.

NOOR: It remains to be seen if this contract is approved by Chicago teachers or they reject it and launch a strike in hopes of winning more concessions.

UETRICHT: Its also worth repeating that this contract – they have a tentative agreement – that has been put to come to this agreement between the board and the union’s bargaining team. But the contract still has to be voted on, by the union’s membership. And this is a highly, Democratic-independent-thinking union membership that has voted down contracts in the past that it is not liked. So, it is entirely possible that teachers could vote down the proposed contract and could be back to where we were yesterday. Seeing if we’re going to be experiencing a teacher’s strike soon.

NOOR: Uetricht says its possible for more teachers’ unions -- traditionally not known for threatening strikes to win concessions and demanding an end to austerity to adopt a more militant stance like that of the Chicago Teachers.

UETRICHT: If other teachers’ unions around the country want to be more like the CTU, and that they are a major political juggernaut in the city that is fighting for this broad set of issues. They should take the lessons from the Chicago Teachers’ Union of taking over their union and making it more democratic, more militant, and really working alongside parents and that’s not easy work, by any means. But it’s the only way to transform teachers’ unions into this broad social justice vehicle that the CTU is.

NOOR: This is Jaisal Noor.


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