Everyone has a voice
The Chicago Teachers Union’s democracy means both that every individual member has a voice and, at the same time, that our Union speaks with one voice. CTU teachers, clinicians and PSRPs have many opportunities to express their ideas at the school level and to participate in the union on a citywide level. Educators can also seek approval from their peers to represent them on school committees and union-wide bodies.
The CTU’s members form the highest governing body of the union. The Union holds elections every three years for its four major officers, its executive board and its representatives to both the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federations of Teachers.
In addition, the entire membership votes on whether the Union is authorized to call a strike and on whether to accept or reject a tentative agreement, which becomes our contract if ratified. The Union can also hold votes on other important decisions. For example, when the leaderships of the charter union local and the CTU wanted to merge, both bodies held union-wide votes to ratify that decision, as well as for other changes to our constitution.
There is one other important venue in which any member can make their voice heard: union committees. The CTU has both standing committees — specifically established in the Constitution — and special committees, which are usually established as subcommittees of the standing ones. Any member may request to serve as a voting member of a committee and these requests are usually granted.
Committees are important places where rank-and-file members across the city share experiences and spot trends. Most of the resolutions that are brought to the Executive Board and House of Delegates begin their lives in committee. Committees also initiate and recommend activities like social events, charity participation and scholarship programs. Committees also originate many of the bargaining proposals that officers bring to the table as they negotiate each contract.
In every school and workplace
When many people think of the CTU, they think of the officers and staff who work full time serving the membership. The union is strongest, however, when it unifies members in their schools and workplaces to enforce healthy working conditions directly with immediate supervisors and administrators. Union staff are trained to support this work, but it takes solidarity among coworkers to address issues when they crop up and make clear to administrators that our rights cannot be violated if they want the school to run smoothly.
A school’s delegate is the elected leader of the union in the school. Larger schools will have a lead delegate and a number of associate delegates, based on the number of members in the school. CTU members who do not work at one school are represented by citywide delegates from the same functional group — a grouping of educators who work at similar jobs. Delegates serve three-year terms, although they are often initially elected to fill a vacancy in the middle of the term. In charter schools, “building representatives” serve essentially the same role as a delegate and also serve in the House of Delegates.
To be effective, a delegate cannot work alone. They must put their efforts toward bringing colleagues together, educating members about our rights, and coordinating union members to speak as one. Delegates are elected by the peers they represent. When voting for a delegate, it is important to choose someone you trust who represents the spirit of cooperation among colleagues and is willing to hold administrators accountable for respecting the rights of every educator, not just their friends.
Your delegate is your first contact with the CTU. If you are called by an administrator into a meeting that may affect your job, you have the right to be accompanied by a union representative. Often that representative will be your delegate. Delegates can also help you work with union staff to pursue a grievance, although you aren’t required to go through a delegate to deal with union staff.
Delegates also convene the Professional Problems Committee and usually lead PPC meetings with the principal. Every month, all the delegates throughout the city meet at the House of Delegates to confer with officers and staff and to make decisions about the direction of the union. Many delegates hold a union meeting in their school following the HOD to report back. In addition, delegates are responsible for managing school-wide votes, such as voting for your testing schedule, flexible prep schedule or other contract issues.
Delegates do not work alone. In order to facilitate this work, committees of CTU members work in the school to combine their efforts and ensure both that every voice is heard and that everyone stands up for all. The Professional Problems Committee is the chief body that brings together members in the school to hear from and defend one another. The PPC meets with the principal every month to bring concerns to them and negotiate solutions to problems, to resolve violations of our contract, and to ensure that the principal’s plans do not infringe on members’ rights or the healthy functioning of the school.
Each school has two other bodies that are not union bodies, strictly speaking, but which are of great import and invite union members’ participation. State law establishes Local School Councils, which govern the school as a whole and combine the voice of administrators, parents, school community members, paraprofessionals and teachers. Educators can elect two teachers and one non-teacher staff member to the LSC. Union members should get together to decide who would best represent them in this body.
Likewise, state law establishes Professional Personnel Leadership Committees. This group is elected by teachers in the school with a legal mandate to study and recommend school practices with regards to the curriculum, school improvement plans, and budget. The two teacher members of the LSC serve on the PPLC, as well as up to five other teachers or other certificated staff and excluding administrators. While principals may decide to choose and convene an ILT, the law mandates that teachers elect their PPLC and that it makes recommendations to the principal monthly.
United throughout the city
Union work within schools and workplaces is essential to affect the everyday lives of educators. At the same time, members elect representatives to guide our coordinated work throughout the city. Elected leaders also hire and direct staff and represent the Union’s membership within the civic community.
In addition to PPCs within each school, a similar body composed of delegates from every school in a network meets regularly to discuss issues arising from the work of network chiefs and their staff. The network PPC often helps to tease out which policies arise from network chiefs and which are the mandate of principals individually to clarify which decision-makers must be consulted and held accountable for misguided initiatives.
In the spring of 2018, CTU members voted to accept merger with the union local representing teachers and staff at charter schools. As part of the merger, CTU established a special division to ensure teachers and staff at charter schools would be well-represented within the larger union. The division elects a chair, a secretary and a trustee — all of whom serve on the CTU Executive Board. Prior to merging with the CTU, the charter school local had a federated structure with a council for each bargaining unit (each group of educators bargaining together for a contract with their respective employer). These charter councils continue within the CTU and each has their own leadership body and by-laws.
House of Delegates
As noted above, delegates representing every school and every citywide functional group convene each month during the school year at the House of Delegates (usually on the first Wednesday of the month). At the HOD, members ask officers and staff about problems and trends they notice in their schools. Officers give reports to the HOD about Union activities and orient delegates about the citywide situation the Union faces. Delegates also vote on resolutions, appointment of officer vacancies and make other major decisions, such as approving annual budgets and political endorsements. Two of the most important votes taken by the House of Delegates are to set a date for a strike and whether to recommend ratification of a tentative agreement prior to the full-membership vote on whether that TA becomes our contract.
Along with the four major officers and members of the Executive Board, union members elect, every three years, a group of some 150 delegates and 50 alternate delegates to represent CTU as Local 1 of the American Federation of Teachers. Including the Executive Board, a group of some 150 delegates attend the biennial AFT convention. In addition, the Illinois Federation of Teachers holds a convention every three years. The same individuals serve as delegates representing our union at the IFT convention. These bodies, national and state, also have executive boards and some number of our delegates are usually elected to serve in leadership of those federations.
The Executive Board includes the four major officers, three area vice presidents representing a section of the district, vice presidents of each functional group (elected in proportion to the membership within that group), the trustees of the union and the chair and vice chair of the charter division. The AVPs, functional group vice presidents and trustees are all elected in the same election with the four major officers. In addition, CTU staff and appointed chairs of the standing committees may attend and speak at Executive Board meetings, but may not vote.
The E. Board meets in the week prior to each House of Delegates meeting in order to direct the officers in their duties. It also passes the proposed agenda for the HOD and decides whether resolutions proposed by the Union’s committees should be sent to the House of Delegates for consideration by that body. As a representative body of the union, the E. Board is similar to the HOD, but because it is smaller it can be more nimble in meeting and consulting with the officers.
The union membership, in the same election that decides the four major officers, elects seven trustees. Together with the CTU-ACTS charter division trustee they form a group that oversees and safeguards the union’s finances. The Board of Trustees join the four major officers to form the Budget Committee, which is chaired by the chair of the Board of Trustees.
The president, vice president, recording secretary and financial secretary are the four major officers of the Union. Each fills their particular role, with the recording secretary responsible for historical records and notices and the financial secretary responsible for keeping membership records and overseeing other financial and administrative staff. Each goes on leave from their job as educator while they serve full time at the union office.
The officers appoint members to positions that serve the CTU membership.
District organizers are unsung heroes of the Union. Prior to the constitutional change in spring of 2018, district organizers were known as district supervisors. For each network, district organizers meet between the Executive Board meeting and the House of Delegates. The DOs contact every delegate in their network to report and prepare them for the upcoming HOD. In the case of a strike, district organizers act as strike coordinators.
Each standing committee of the Union and special committee — usually a subcommittee of a standing committee — holds regular meetings throughout the school year to coordinate their duties. The Union president appoints committee chairs and assigns staff liaisons to work with them.
Constitution & By-laws
These democratic processes and roles are laid out in more detail in the Union’s Constitution and Bylaws.