Friday, September 23, 2011

Chicago Scab Teachers Volunteer For Longer Hours At Low Wages

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
Jean-Claude Brizard, CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel have tried to get longer school days at Chicago schools and they have succeeded at 13 of them.

Fiske Elementary Principal Cynthia Miller was quoted in the Chicago Tribune saying "We're all on board," despite the fact that her staff only approved the longer day by a narrow margin. "There's no rift here,” she delusionally proclaimed. “I've been in constant conversations with my teachers. … Everyone understands what the expectation is when the majority rules."

To most Ed Deformers and Autocrats, “Democracy Rules” means stifling dissent, ignoring honest and intelligent criticism, and shoving a new policy down people’s throats. Contrary to the Ed Deformers’ and Autocrats’ beliefs, however, participation in a majority rules vote does not guarantee participation or consent in the majority rules decision.

Over and over again in my 14 years of teaching I have seen similar bogus “democratic” or “consensus” processes. Even when everyone “agrees” to abide with the final decision, there are still those who subvert the decision and undermine it in their own private way. In this case, there will be those who refuse to work during those extra hours or who refuse to teach or who simply show videos or some other low effort activity. And they would be completely justified in doing so considering they will paid significantly less than their regular wages for the extra work.

Nevertheless, teachers at 13 Chicago schools have voted to defy their Union and extend their work days, supposedly securing bonuses for themselves and financial incentives for their schools.

Emanuel and Brizard have offered schools $150,000 in discretionary funds and $1,250 in bonuses to each teacher if they extend their school days. However, if teachers are expected to work an extra 30 minutes each day, they would be working an extra 2.5 hours per week. Multiplied by a nine-month school year, they would be toiling an additional 90 hours. Their $1,250 bonus divided by 90 hours would come to less than $14 per hour, less than half the $35 per hour starting salary earned by beginning teachers in Chicago ($50,500 per year). However, some schools intend to add more than 30 minutes to the work day. Teachers at schools that add 60 minutes to the day will earn a whopping $7 per hour for their extra labor.

In other words, it’s a terrible deal for teachers. They are effectively giving away their labor at a cut rate price, with no reasonable expectation that it will benefit their students. In some cases, they may be working for less than the federal minimum wage. And there is no reason to make such a compromise. They are not being threatened with layoffs. There is no risk of unemployment should they vote intelligently and oppose such nonsense.

However, it is not just a dumb move for those who voted for it. By accepting longer hours, even if they were able to earn their normal wage, they set a precedent and embolden their district to make further ridiculous demands. Supposedly, CPS intends to impose longer hours on all teachers next year, with or without the consent of the union, something they would be less likely to attempt if the union had any teeth.

One should wonder how the union even allowed things to get this far. Generally, for an egregious violation of working conditions such as this, a school would have to take a waiver vote to override their contract. However, waiver votes are not generally permitted without the union first approving such a vote. In order to approve a waiver, the legislative body of the union would typically hear the proposal from teachers at the schools interested in taking a waiver vote, and require proof that it was a teacher led initiative supported by the majority. Then they would have to agree that it was not against the interests of the union and the other teachers.

So how did this terrible anti-labor initiative get as far as it did?

My guess is that a bunch of conflict-adverse factotums were on the legislative board and felt it better to let their colleagues dig their own graves than to take a principled stand and risk being seen as a meany.

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