On Friday, the solidarity of Chicago Teachers Union sisters and brothers, along with the solidarity of more than 50 union and community organizations, will be on full display before the entire city, state and nation. In this unprecedented strike for political demands and state funding that encompass the entire state, our picket lines represent our strength and our resolve to fight for the schools our students deserve. We are in a battle with powerful forces that want to privatize schools, permanently reduce our livelihoods and divest from struggling neighborhoods. Our unity right now is the only protection we have against continued financial instability in the school district.
We are still at the beginning of a struggle that has already proven to be protracted and difficult. This one-day unfair labor practice strike will set in motion the larger forces that will ultimately be necessary to save our schools. Only a strong showing on April 1 and remaining united with our allies will help secure the revenue we need for a fair contract and adequate investments for our students’ futures. Below are some key points on the practicalities and politics of strong picket lines.
Put up your picket line early
The CTU is directing schools to start picket lines at 6:30 a.m. to get the line established early, bring attention to our fight for school funding in the community and lock down school activity. If you believe that your local conditions suggest a different time, please consult with your school’s district supervisor. No CTU member is to cross a picket line and each school should designate a small crew to record any such activity.
Our opponents hope you’ll cross the line
On Sunday, the Chicago Tribune editorial board appealed to members to cross their union sisters’ and brothers’ picket lines despite an overwhelming vote by the House of Delegates to strike on April 1. Enemies of the labor movement and human progress have always attempted to sow division among union members and encourage workers to cross picket lines. While they make many arguments, you can bet that the likes of the Chicago Tribune editorial board will never have the interests of Chicago Public Schools teachers and their students at heart. This is, after all, a board with a member who openly wished for a natural disaster to befall our city and wipe out our system of public education. Likewise, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool pointed out the obvious fact that CTU members will not be paid for strike days and encouraged members to act against their colleagues and their own interests by breaking our strike’s unity. Note that Claypool has already backpedaled from threats to discipline members for this strike, and is now just warning against the inappropriate use of benefit days. These decisions, coupled with existing unfair labor practices by CPS, have contributed to the instability we have been experiencing in our schools. But we are strong and have the momentum.
Some members are legitimately concerned about April 1
Among the many concepts the servants of Chicago’s power elite cannot grasp is the depth of our union’s democracy. They seem to believe that voting against a resolution will result in members acting against the union. The vast majority of members who have questioned our union’s vote genuinely support the goals of the Chicago Teachers Union. Some of those sisters and brothers questioned the way the plan was proposed to members, while others think a different plan would achieve our shared goals more effectively. Disagreement is healthy in our union and a less-than-unanimous vote following a vigorous debate indicates the care and diligence our delegates brought to this issue. However, having decided the question through the vote, our delegates and members will naturally abide by this decision. That’s how democracy works. That’s how solidarity works.
What will happen to me if I do cross the line?
The most important thing about strikebreakers is to have as few as possible! In 2012, fewer than 20 people were reported as crossing the line. For those few who may cross, decades-old statutes in the CTU Constitution and By-Laws provides for them to be removed from membership through an internal process that follows the conclusion of the strike. Once removed, the strikebreaker would lose the benefits of membership.
Now is not the time, however, to start planning what actions we will take against our co-workers. Now is the time to convince our co-workers of the importance of joining us—not by name-calling or threats, but by explaining why it is so harmful and destructive to cross a picket line.
Crossing the line would hurt your union
The union’s leadership and House of Delegates have determined that this strike and day of action are the best course for our union. Those who disagree have a right to their opinions, but if they don’t abide by the House’s decision they will hurt our union. For more than 100 years, educators have organized to better conditions in the schools, and when we’ve won, we won through organization and unity. Consider that we teach our students every day about the importance of standing up for what’s right. The fight to fund our schools, to save this education system and support public services is just. Our students are watching our example. Moreover, whether on the picket line or in the classroom, it takes cooperation and collegiality to achieve the best for our students. From teachers to school clerks, to school social workers and guidance counselors, trust is an essential bond that makes education possible.
What if I’ve already put in for a Personal Business day?
To be safe, any member that put in for a Personal Business (PB) day after February 2, 2016 (the day when Claypool announced elimination of the pension pickup and the Union first indicated we might strike on April 1) should withdraw it, unless you legitimately planned to do something other than join the Union on the picket line or at the rally. If you cannot withdraw the request using AESOP, you can send an email to your principal or supervisor to create a record that you attempted to withdraw the request. If you do not attempt to withdraw your PB day request, the Board may decide that you were trying to defraud them by seeking pay for a strike day and impose discipline on you for this.
What about members with religious or similar prohibitions against striking?
A few religious groups prohibit participation in political or union activities despite their earnest regard for their union sisters and brothers. Those members who face such a prohibition can attend the post-strike tribunal and pay a fine equal to the pay received by the Board for working during the strike. Payment of this fine will erase their record as a strikebreaker and re-instate them as full CTU members.
What about members on leave?
If you are on leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) you cannot participate in any school functions or any activity held on school grounds. Your attendance on the picket line can jeopardize your medical leave. The only exception to this is if you are on maternity leave. During the 2012 strike members on FMLA did not get paid for strike days. Members on Short Term Disability leave also will not get paid for any strike days.
On April 1 we will stand united and strong
April 1 will be a successful and inspiring strike. Just as in 2012, we will show the Board, the mayor and the governor our unity and determination. Unlike 2012, though, we will be joined by much broader forces that are also suffering under the state’s budget crisis. Each and every member should participate in the day’s activities. Strengthen your school’s picket line. Join in a protest or teach-in at a state college or public service center. Definitely do not miss the massive march at the Thompson Center at 4 p.m. Help change our city for the better.