A first-hand account from the Chicago Teachers Union strike, from education worker Agnieszka Karoluk.
This morning at 7am I went to one of my neighborhood public schools, Jordan Community school in North Rogers Park, Chicago. About 40 teachers and other staff gathered outside the school’s front door, all wore red shirts some showed up with picket signs. A box of documents sat in the middle of the circle that we all formed, surrounded by donuts, muffins, a cake, and some coffee. It was evident that everyone was anxious and ready to ask questions. When the union delegate handed out a few documents, including this table of the outline of the tentative agreement, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) members began to jot down notes and slowly discussed the details of the agreement amongst themselves. It was clear that most folks were confused and had a lot of questions about the tentative document. At 7:45am the union delegate began to outline what had happened at the meeting of the House of Delegates Sunday night, a meeting which ended up with the CTU announcing they need more time to go over the details of the tentative agreement, causing an uproar from the media and mayor Rahm Emmanuel, who along with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has issued a court order to end the strike. “People who hated us hate us even more now,” union delegate member told CTU members this morning outside Jordan Community School.
According to the delegate, the most important thing to take away from her description of the House of Delegates meeting as that there was no contract offered at the meeting. The only documents delegates received was an outline, with language still being worked out. The delegate also explained that there was a vote on whether or not to end the strike and there were 100 more votes to keep the strike going. “We cannot vote on a contract when there is no contract,” she said to us. Not only was the contact not laid out in full, CTU members also agreed that they have no trust for CPS which is notorious for “slipping in” sentences and language which either entirely disregards or slightly changes some of the points CTU initially agreed upon. Notably, CPS promised to arrange small class sizes, ‘except in the case when a school’s enrollment is at a certain rate.
As for what is happening on the ground today, we were informed that CTU members are not negotiating today, but rather they are working on the details of the language of the tentative agreement. When union delegates walked into the meeting on Sunday afternoon, the negotiating team informed them that they had been up since 5:30am on Saturday, meaning they had been awake and working for over 34 hours. On Tuesday, September 18th after sundown the contract is promised to be finished with details and all included. If the contract is agreed on by the CTU, it is likely that school will not resume until Thursday.
In addition to details to be worked out in the next 48 hours on the tentative agreement, CTU members criticized the lack of language about school closings in the contract. This was evidently the number one concern of both the union delegate and all the CTU staff and teachers who were present at the meeting this morning at Jordan. One of the members brought up mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s comment that the strike "endangers the health and safety of our children" despite crime rates dropping last week during the strike, and Rahm’s personal plan to close down 200 schools in the next 2 years to “Turn them around” by having private companies to open charter schools. CPS already has an agreement with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to open 60+ charter schools in Chicago, causing the closing of neighborhood schools in the process.
“They say this is about school choice. This is NOT a choice! A choice is when families have the options of a neighborhood school and a charter school. Closing down neighborhood schools is not a choice,” union delegate at Jordan exclaimed to the group this morning. One teacher went on to say, “They don’t give us books and resources, and then they say ‘oh, you’re failing- we have to close this school down,’ they are setting us up for failure!” Another teacher asked, “how can we keep fighting this [closing of neighborhood schools] even after the contract is agreed upon?” The answer was grassroots organizing: informational pickets in neighborhoods as soon as CTU members find out which schools are due to close. Most of the schools on the list to be closed down (the list has not been released yet but is known to exist) are on the South and West sides, where the students and families are overwhelmingly African-American and Latino.
At the end of the meeting, the union delegate asked her constituency, “So.. do you want to picket right now?” the answer was a loud and clear “NO!”
“Okay, then let’s do this. Take half an hour to look over these documents, and then we will go to Dominicks to get some gloves and we will go pick up trash in our neighborhood and canvas the area to tell people about what is going on with the contract. We will clean up this neighborhood because we love our school and we love our community!” this was followed by cheering and applause.
Agnieszka can be contacted at a.karoluk[at]gmail.com