Rahm Sues Teachers Because They Want to Read, Engage in Democracy

The Chicago teacher’s strike is getting closer to agreement: while the draft agreement limits the test-driven evaluation to the levels required by the state and provides means for some means to provide support staff (counselors, for example) in needy schools, But it still permits Rahm to shut schools so he can open unproven charters to enrich his friends.

And so the union wants to spend 2 days so teachers can actually read the agreement, discuss it, and vote democratically.

After a civil and frank discussion, the House of Delegates voted NOT to suspend the strike, but to allow two more days for delegates to take the information back to the picket lines and hold discussions with the union’s more than 26,000 members throughout Chicago. Teachers and school staff will return to the picket lines of the schools at which they teach at 7:30 a.m. Monday and, after picketing together, will meet to share and discuss the proposal. Citywide members will picket at the Chicago Public Schools Headquarters, 125 South Clark, at 7:30 a.m. and will meet thereafter at a downtown location.

“This union is a democratic institution, which values the opportunity for all members to make decisions together. The officers of this union follow the lead of our members,” President Lewis said. She continued, “the issues raised in this contract were too important, had consequences too profound for the future of our public education system and for educational fairness for our students, parents and members for us to simply take a quick vote based on a short discussion. Therefore, a clear majority voted to take this time and we are unified in this decision.”

Reading and democracy!

In response, Rahm has said he will sue, arguing that the teachers are striking over something other than wages, as they have been prohibited from doing.

Emanuel called the strike “illegal” and said he would go to court to seek an injunction to block the labor action.

“I will not stand by while the children of Chicago are played as pawns in an internal dispute within a union,” Emanuel said, adding that the union walked out over issues that are not subject to a strike under Illinois state law.

Because the last thing we want to teach American school children is about reading and democracy.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

15 replies
  1. drational says:

    My children are victims of the Chicago Teacher’s strike. The sticking points are 1) Using seniority as the basis for teacher re-hires from closed CPS schools into new or existing CPS schools, and 2) using “objective” measures of teacher performance for merit raises. Chicago has excess capacity and some really, really bad schools that must be closed. Allowing a principal to hire the best candidate (from union teacher rosters) helps students. Forcing hiring on seniority ensures job security for teachers, but may not be the best for students. The goal of using objective measures in merit raises is to improve student performance. Whether it is actually going to help students is debatable, but it is based in principle on helping students. Resisting use of objective performance measures ensures job security for teachers.

    I am a union supporter, but my patience is running thin. This situation is not in any way about making education better in Chicago. This is two entities (Rahm and CTU) holding children hostage over money and job security for teachers. It may be educational to be able to observe the process, but the lesson is not reading and democracy. It is how far people will go to keep their pile of money.

  2. bittersweet says:

    @drational:Are you a “victim” because you have to pay for day care this week? “Allowing a principal to hire the best candidate (from union teacher rosters) helps students.” How do you intend to define “best candidate”? Are we going to test score the teachers now? Do we only hire teachers who work in affluent neighborhoods, with students whose parents tutor them so they get higher test scores?
    Typically, closing a business location, gets rid of higher paid workers, and allows management to higher new, lowest paid workers. If the school district just targeted schools with “mature” staffs, sold the building to government vouchered, but privately owned charter schools, then the district could save money on all of those higher teacher salaries and health benefits for older teachers. That would be great, right? Hire new graduate teachers with a master’s degree. Let them teach until they have put in enough time for their first pay raise, and then fire them. That’s a great idea!. Of course it would change teaching from a profession to an after college transitional job, like check out girl at the local Target store. But what do we care. You herd the kids 50 to a room. Baby sit them until 3pm, and make the freeloading parents get out of work early to supervise them for the rest of the day. What do you think, that education is an entitlement? s/
    Seniority works to stabilize a work force. With it comes the perk of the workforce actually getting better at their job. Do we really have to fight these battles all over again?

  3. Eureka Springs says:

    Funny how the threat/ability to shut a school down entirely is not a threat to wages. Additionally I would ask what else Shock Doctor Rahm is up to? He never lets a crisis go to waste.

  4. Phil Perspective says:

    @drational: Do you really think sucky teachers are going to stay on the job for 20 or 30 years? You don’t get rich teaching. But thanks for proving you really don’t support unions. How do you think we got weekends off and all the other stuff unions were responsible for? It wasn’t by playing nice and not striking.

  5. Linnaeus says:

    I’ve got a couple of thoughts about Emanuel’s action:

    1. He saw that he was losing on local public opinion (generally) on the issue and wanted to take the opportunity to appear strong and put pressure on the CTU to approve the tentative agreement.

    2. He may be calculating that the CTU will react to the injunction by continuing the strike as a way to fight back against him; he will then try to put the onus on the CTU, figuring they will now be blamed for the situation.

    They’re not mutually exclusive propositions. It’s probably more of #1, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a little of #2 as well.

  6. Peterr says:

    @Eureka Springs:


    From Rahm:

    “I will not stand by while the children of Chicago are played as pawns in an internal dispute within a union,” Emanuel said, adding that the union walked out over issues that are not subject to a strike under Illinois state law.

    Two reactions: (1) Sounds like the king has plans of his own for those pawns. (2) If Rahm is so upset that the union is striking over non-wage issues, the union could make a counteroffer that says things like “if the roof in a building leaks, all the staff get a location adjustment of 20%” or “if there is mold in the ventilation system, all the staff get a hazard pay adjustment of 50%” or “if the class size is above 39, the teacher gets their pay doubled.”

  7. bittersweet says:

    Thus far I have no seen anyone questioning the law which makes it illegal to strike for anything but wages! We must all realize that the only purpose to pass such a law is to attempt to remove public empathy for the striking teachers. If they are striking to improve physical or social conditions, then you can not accuse them of being greedy. Why would it not be better for the students, to pass a law which makes it LEGAL to strike ONLY for improved physical conditions, more teachers and smaller class sizes, greater budgets for exercise, reading and arts? Why isn’t it illegal to strike for better wages?
    Some of the best things that unions have done for our society is striking to improve workplace conditions! I smell ALEC in the passing of this odious law, with Rahm cheering from the sidelines!

  8. Ian says:

    @drational: Thanks for sharing you thoughts and feelings about what’s going on in Chicago from a parents perspective. What I’ve heard until now is that parents supported the strike because they agreed with the teachers goals that went well beyond pay to learning conditions.

    I take you at your word when you say it feels like the strike continues because of people’s greed. I want to point out that teachers are being offered raises amounting to 2% and 3% a year, not big money really. Rahm’s actions tell me he seeks closure.

    3% raise in the first year, 2% raise in the second and 2% raise in the third, with the option to extend to a 4th year by mutual agreement at another 3% raise.

    I haven’t compared CTU GOALS to CONTRACT OFFER but it would be instructive.

  9. drational says:

    @bittersweet: I didn’t say I was a victim. I said my kids are victims, because they are prevented from attending school because of the strike. And because their education is what is being used as leverage by the parties. My point was that this is a labor issue foremost and it seems to me that -in this situation- neither party cares fundamentally about educating children. So they are victims, and it seems silly to argue otherwise. It is my perception as a parent, is all I am saying.
    And to Phil, do you think labor can stay strong when they alienate potential allies? Strikes have been historically useful and supported when there was a big pot of money in the hands of demonstrably greedy owners. In this case, Chicago is broke, with underfunded police and firemen pensions, and neighbors struggling to stay employed to provide the taxes for the teacher concessions. Chicago teachers average 71K salary and have already negotiated 17% pay raises over the next 4 years. The union teachers who have taught my kids have been outstanding, and I would want them paid 100k a year, if I could afford it. But it is a tough time for a lot of families I know. You can insult me and say that my feelings on this “prove I really don’t support unions”, but in my opinion, that exact response is one of the problems with this fight. The teachers have not done enough to tell people like me why their strike and their specific demands are reasonable and just. I don’t think you can snigger and resort to arguments of “40 hour work week and weekends off”- and win friends in this economic climate, even in this bluest of blue cities.

  10. drational says:

    @ Ian. I am in a neighborhood that is 80% City of Chicago police, firemen and teachers. When the strike started, many of the homes had signs in front- “union home”. Now most of these have been removed, and I think it is in part owing to what many of my neighbors perceive as CTU going too far. The other nuance to this particular situation is the CTU president has made some unfortunate comments that give the appearance of arrogance and disconnect from the kids and parents who have to deal with the real consequences of the strike. At any rate, the whole thing is a mess.

  11. Bill Michtom says:

    drational: “The other nuance to this particular situation is the CTU president has made some unfortunate comments that give the appearance of arrogance and disconnect from the kids and parents who have to deal with the real consequences of the strike.”

    Please quote some of these comments so that I can understand the basis of your alienation.


  12. EH says:

    Now most of these have been removed, and I think it is in part owing to what many of my neighbors perceive as CTU going too far.

    You don’t talk to your neighbors?

  13. Eureka Springs says:


    I wouldn’t calla city which elects Rahm for dog catcher much less Mayor, Blue. Unless the blues are looking for an S&M good time.

    Also there seems to be some dispute on the 71k avg. meme. Via Lambert over at N.C. links this morning:

    Salaries: “It became commonplace in he media to say over and over that the average salary for Chicago teachers is $71,000-$76,000. [In fact, it’s] is $56,720

  14. drational says:

    @EH, I talk to my neighbors. Not all of them who have removed their signs. I attended a school fundraiser Saturday (to provide tech for the classrooms that CPS does not provide), and to a person, folks were frustrated with the teachers and ready for this to be over. And this was when we all thought the strike was over, as the draft agreement was available Friday.
    @ Bill: for example, leaving a rally she told attendees she was headed to the “silly part of my day.”
    @ Eureka
    “Overall, CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said, the raises would be 17.6 percent, on average, over four years. Raises would vary, with some teachers potentially getting raises in the “late 20s (percent),” Carroll said, especially if they earn a graduate degree or more credits. CPS teachers on average earned $71,236 in 2011, state data show.”

    And in what way is Chicago not Blue? This is a proud union city to the core. In part because of the tremendous support of Union workers, past Mayors have made large promises in terms of pensions that that are going to be difficult to meet. Simply, Chicago cannot meet it’s future obligations without tremendous capacity cuts (like closing schools or reducing police hires) or reneging on past agreements.
    My best friend is a Chicago cop counting the days til 30 years of service in 6 more years. He will retire at age 52 with a pension that is 70% of his final pay (which is now 110k). That is a darn good result of union bargaining with past mayors during good times; but all these outstanding (and future) obligations have to get paid by someone. Now is a difficult time to be asking citizens, many of whom don’t have the same job security or generous pensions to look forward to, to commit to further obligations.

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