Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Longer Chicago School Day: Truce or Surrender?

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have been trying to unilaterally impose a 90 minute longer school day on teachers in violation of their contract. The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) sued to halt the contract violation and the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board ruled that CPS was using unfair labor practices in their attempt to get the longer school day without bargaining and winning an agreement with the teachers.

This, however, is not the end of the story. The Ed Deformers are convinced that a longer school day is just the thing needed to solve the problem of low student achievement—since their other magic bullets, like charter schools, merit pay and high stakes testing have all failed to do this—and they are unwilling to let a selfish and greedy union get in their way. Their goal now is to get the union to embrace their latest deform effort and convince their members to accept this attack on their working conditions.

According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who represents the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, brokered a truce between the teachers and CPS. The deal requires CPS to stop offering incentives to individual teachers or schools and the union to drop its legal struggle against longer school days for the rest of this school year. The 13 schools that have already voted to lengthen their days will get to keep their new schedules.

Battle Over?
New contract negotiations begin in a few weeks. Issues on the table, the Tribune reports, include restructuring teacher pay, new teacher evaluations and the district's plan to lengthen the school day. Complicating matters for the union is new state legislation signed by Gov. Pat Quinn that gives CPS the authority to implement a longer school day next fall without the union's approval, thus undermining collective bargaining.

In order to win this fight, CTU will have to strike not only against CPS, but the state of Illinois, a fight that is not likely to happen. Rather than using the lull to agitate and mobilize members, CTU President Karen Lewis has taken an entirely conciliatory tone, saying that she hopes “. . . we've taken some of the poison pill out of the water, and we can approach each other and work together," according to the Tribune.

The poison is still in the water. In fact, the water has been completely contaminated by the state’s intervention in the teachers’ contract and working conditions. Both the state and the city are hell bent on lengthening the school day. They only choices for the teachers is to accept this or fight.

If the union does not confront this directly and militantly, they expose their necks to continued manipulations of their working conditions by the state, on behalf of the Ed Deformers and they run the risk of making collective bargaining itself irrelevant.

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