George Schmidt was a teacher in the CPS system for 28 years. He’s been affiliated with the CTU for much of that time. He’s currently a member of its House of Delegates. He’s also the founder, and still the driving force behind, Substance News, now entirely on-line. He has more than 40 years of observing the system, agitating for change and union organizing.
Schmidt was deeply involved with the response to the “Tentative Agreement” between the CTU and CPS that was floated about two weeks ago. He gives us an inside account of the intense lobbying that went on before the “Big Bargaining Team” vote that rejected the offer unanimously on February 1.
“Democracy intervened in an explosive way,” he begins.
CTU President Karen Lewis issued a statement indicating the CPS had put some major new issues on the table, and that the two sides might be approaching an agreement. As we now know, the so-called “tentative agreement” collapsed a few days later when the “Big Bargaining Unit” unanimously rejected it.
But Schmidt tells us the inside story. The Big Bargaining unit, he says, was deeply divided.
“At that moment, according to my sources on the big bargaining team, the team polled itself internally and it was 26 to 14 “no” already,” he claims. “It was not unanimous, but then every day after that – Wednesday, Thursday, Friday to Monday, every day after that as the yes votes got a closer look at the pieces, like this no economic layoffs, but, or community schools but-and, you know, people kept saying, “We’re not getting anything. We’re taking a 7% pay cut. We’re supposedly getting these things we want to make the school better, but we’re really not getting those either because they’re bullshit.”
It took a couple of days for the “yes” votes to change their minds, Schmidt says. “So finally between the Wednesday of the week when Karen said, “We’ve got a deal,” or Jesse was saying, “We seem to have the framework for a deal,” they were saying slightly different things, very different in reality, the big bargaining team people debated it so that by Monday, which was the day the executive board was supposed to meet, the big bargaining team voted unanimously saying, “No, 40 to nothing, no.”
And Schmidt says that was just the beginning. The “no” sentiment was strong at every stage of the process. “But I’m convinced,” he reports, “at every point the no vote of the big bargaining team, the 40 to nothing would have been reflected at every other level where we have democratic representation.”
So why the apparent disconnect between the bargaining team and the members? Didn’t the Board of Ed agree to eliminating layoffs for the duration of the contract? “The selling point supposedly to the big bargaining team was we’re getting contract language that says no economic layoffs,” Schmidt explains. “And people said, “Well what about other kinds of layoffs?” …Well, there’s 1,000 synonyms that you could use for reducing forces without saying it’s an economic layoff… And people started asking and the answer was well, right. …people have now lived under the contract that we won in 2012 after the strike,” he says, “and have pretty much seen the holes in that, and there are a lot of them.”
“I mean just to take one example of an explosion that happened from the previous contract. At the end of 2015 the Board of Education’s medical insurance was reorganized because the Board was allowed to. And a lot of us found out the hard way that things had changed radically. The members at this point having won the strike in 2012 and lived under the contract since 2012 are really demanding that every paragraph not only be explicit but explained. And I don’t think any vote is going to get through the members until that happens, until the leadership can give you everything that’s in the deal and explain it in a way that’s going to be satisfying.
In the current environment, Schmidt tells us, it might be more acceptable to go for a two year contract, instead of four. “I think two years would be sellable because there’s too much suspicion and the suspicion is not going to go away. You know it’s not bad faith. Forrest Claypool walked into a minefield…” says Schmidt.
Can anything be learned from this exercise? Schmidt offers some advice to top managers. “…it may even be an argument for a less open collective bargaining, a little more secrecy that you don’t go around saying things until you’re sure you’ve got the deal,” he speculates.
But more important to Schmidt is his assertion that teachers have fallen behind economically in the past four years, particularly after the contractually-obigated four-percent raise was simply rescinded by the Board in 2012.
“No contract is going to be acceptable to the members of the Chicago Teachers Union who vote on it, if it includes a pay cut of any kind, period.”
We also ask for Schmidt’s reaction to Governor Rauner’s Wednesday budget speech. He says he understands the arguments CEO Claypool and Mayor Emanuel are making that CPS schools don’t get a fair share of state funding, but he says State aid is a secondary, and much smaller portion of overall CPS funding. The vast majority comes from Chicago taxpayers. “In fact,” he asserts, “Chicago property taxpayers, – that’s residential, residential to commercial and industrial taxpayers as its four main categories – we’re paying less proportionately, as the Civic Federation’s been pointing out for years, than our neighbors. If you go to the six county Chicago area the majority of school districts have proportionately much higher property taxes than we do.”
And that hurts CPS, he says, when it goes to the Capitol looking for money.
“So you do have that argument and that’s what Chicago runs into when you get to Springfield and say, “Well we want more money from Springfield and if you don’t give it to us you’re a racist.” You know the average state legislator no matter what his diversity composition maybe would just say, “Wait a minute, let’s look at this fact. The people in Wilmette are getting what they’re paying for. Why aren’t you willing to pay for that too? At least look at the local property taxes as well as constantly saying Springfield Springfield Springfield.”
You can read a full transcript of today’s show here: CN transcript Feb 18 16