Sparring between teacher's unions and school administration is nothing new. But here in Chicago this perennial bickering has taken a disturbing turn. In recent months both Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and the new public schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard have been dangling a carrot in front of the mouths of overworked and underpaid Chicago area public school teachers. If you agree to let us lengthen the hours of instruction at your school, you'll get a 2% raise.
The bait apparently has started to work as individual schools have begun to break ranks with the Chicago Teacher's Union, which is currently led by long-time public schools teacher Karen Lewis. In part this is the result of Lewis's tone deaf leadership of the CTU as well as the impossible public relations task she and her staff faces. How do you convince the residents of Chicago that a longer school day is a bad thing? And, when the CTU has been bickering for raises, why would you turn down a 2% increase?
Although I am no fan of Lewis, who if she bothered to read the newspapers would know that NOW is NOT the time to be asking for more money anywhere in the world, I am disturbed by what is clearly an attempt by a Democratic Mayor to engage in Union Busting.
One would think in a town so tied to organized labor that unions wouldn't be such a dirty world, and yet they are. The CTU is just one of several singled out by corporate capitalists and their fanboys/fangirls for attack. We are told that these teachers, and here they are referring primarily to teachers with seniority who are the bulk of the CTU's active membership, are leeches on the city coffers. They are greedy pigs lining up at the trough to get their dough while the rest of us suffer from stagnating wages and crushing debt.
Lewis has only made this public relations problem worse with her brash in your face, my way or the highway style. Not only does it make those on the outside of education circles see teachers the way anti-unionists want them to but it also makes them wonder what teachers like Lewis are like inside the classroom. Do they bully students the way they are bullying anyone that dares to question their demands.
Collective Bargaining is a hard earned right of the working classes. Our ancestors died on the streets and starved during lockouts and strikes to earn it. Let's not mess things up by forgetting that you can't demand money that doesn't exist. Let's also not forget the first rule of education: always have an open mind. It's time to listen Mrs. Lewis rather than pontificate. And you, Mr. Brizard, need to remember that you are still a guest. Chicago doesn't know you yet. You don't make friends by crapping on their lawn.
Update: Brizard tries to make nice in a letter to CPS teachers. You can read a transcipt of it at Chicago Tribune reporter Eric Zorn's blog: http://blogs.chicagotribune.com/news_columnists_ezorn/2011/09/message-to-chicago-teachers-from-the-boss.html