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Idea of teacher strike no longer farfetched, but for now it’s only a vote

Updated: July 7, 2012 8:37AM



To fully appreciate the delicious irony surrounding the strike authorization vote Chicago teachers will commence Wednesday, you need to turn back the clocks just one year.

That’s when Jonah Edelman, a school reform activist out of Oregon, was videotaped before a Colorado think tank bragging how his organization had outfoxed the Chicago Teachers Union by helping pass legislation in Illinois he thought would make it impossible for teachers here to strike.

The provision of which Edelman was so proud: a requirement that the CTU couldn’t authorize a strike without an affirmative vote from 75 percent of its members.

“The unions cannot strike in Chicago. They will never be able to muster the 75 percent threshold necessary to strike,” boasted Edelman, basing his prediction on data showing past strike authorizations had never exceeded 50 percent of the membership. Edelman suggested the teachers hadn’t done their homework.

A lot of folks figured he was probably correct about the 75 percent threshold being insurmountable. Not any more.

Teacher discontent is so pervasive within CPS that the possibility of the union passing a strike authorization vote — not to be confused with actually going out on strike — now looms as a strong possibility.

It’s such a strong possibility that CPS officials and school “reformers” have adopted a new strategy in recent weeks: whining that the union is conducting the vote prematurely.

They say its unfair that the teachers are voting now instead of waiting for a neutral fact-finder to issue his report in July setting forth key issues in the negotiations and offering a possible compromise.

One of those reform groups has even gone to the airwaves this week asking Chicago parents to sign a petition protesting the union vote.

Boo-hoo.

What did they expect?

Let’s step back a moment. You don’t want a teacher strike. I don’t want a teacher strike. I’m pretty sure Mayor Rahm Emanuel doesn’t want a teacher strike. And Chicago teachers say they don’t want a teacher strike.

Let nothing I write here be interpreted as encouraging a teacher strike.

But if you haven’t noticed, those teachers are mad as hell after getting kicked around on one front and another for a whole year now.

From the longer school day to giving up their scheduled 4 percent pay raises to school closings that shunt veteran teachers aside, teachers are feeling belittled and disrespected.

Somebody in power probably should have figured out before now that it might be a good idea to take their foot off the teachers’ necks before we got to this point.

While some elements of school reform have been sensible, I don’t blame the teachers for taking whatever legal steps they believe will strengthen their position at the bargaining table, given the onslaught of blame being sent in their direction.

As far as the argument Chicago teachers don’t have enough information at this point to authorize a strike, I’d guess the teachers are probably smart enough to figure that out for themselves and vote accordingly.

Remember: A strike authorization vote does not send the teachers out on strike.

The bargaining process will continue to run. At its conclusion, it will require another vote by the union’s 800-member Board of Delegates to actually call a strike. The union also says it will give its members an up-or-down vote on a final contract offer.

A strike authorization vote is just a bargaining tactic designed to let the mayor, CPS leadership and the rest of us know the union has the support of its members at the negotiating table.

When I say “just,” that’s not to indicate in any way that I consider it a vote to be taken lightly. As a veteran of many strike authorization votes over the years, one never wants to vote to authorize a strike that they’re not prepared to take if push came to shove.

But it’s no reason for everybody — CPS parents especially — to get all panicky right now either.

If necessary, there will be plenty of time to get panicky when the whole process comes to a head in the fall.



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