Friday, October 21, 2011

Labor Relations Board Tells Chicago To Back Off Longer School Days

A state labor relations board has asked the Illinois state attorney general’s office to seek an injunction to prevent Chicago public schools from lengthening their days. Chicago Public Schools has been seeking to lengthen the school day at its schools and the union has been resisting, despite pockets of support by doormat teachers at several schools. Nine elementary schools have already extended their days by 90 minutes and will not be affected by any future ruling by the courts, according to the Chicago Tribune.

CPS complained about the possibility of the courts making a decision without hearing arguments from both sides. However, there is no need to hear both sides of an argument when one side is trying to violate a labor contract. Indeed, the board’s request specifically called for an end to the practice of offering financial incentives to teachers who vote in favor of the longer day and to “cease and desist from unilaterally modifying terms” of the existing contract. They also referred to the “irreparable harm” caused by the district’s controversial waiver process.

While the Tribune article did not go into detail about what “irreparable harm” was done by the district’s move, it should be clear to teachers and union organizers and negotiators that any attempt by the boss to unilaterally alter a contract creates a hostile working environment by demonstrating the bosses’ “bad faith” and malice aforethought and their disrespect and disregard for the teachers. They are essentially saying they can do whatever they want, regardless of whether it violates existing agreements.

Of course bosses regularly violate labor contracts and unions routinely resist these violations. However, unions have been failing to educate their members about the importance of contractual protections and the strategic benefits of never giving them up. Consequently, many union members have accepted the token bonuses for extending their workday, naively believing that it would help their students, despite the lack of evidence to support this hypothesis. Meanwhile, by voluntarily accepting the increased workload, they helped the bosses get their feet in the door to impose this increased workload on everyone else. The bosses can now argue that these “good” teachers who truly care about their students did it, so why can’t the rest of you all do it?

If a longer school day was truly beneficial for students and worth doing, CPS should have first come up with the revenues to hire enough new teachers to make it happen without forcing their already overworked teachers to add on another 90 minutes to their day. Adding an additional 90 minutes to the workday significantly limits teachers’ ability to make necessary parental contacts, collaborate, provide additional student support and tutoring, design and prepare engaging and effective lesson plans, or provide meaningful comments on their work.

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