As Chicago Teachers Head Toward Strike, Democrats Turn on Their Union

With Chicago teachers preparing to strike Monday, unionists say it's a “which side are you on?” moment for Democrats. But from the looks of this week's convention, it would seem Democrats have already made their choice. Photo: CTU.

Have Democrats abandoned teacher unions in their pursuit of a corporate-backed education overhaul? From the looks of the Democratic National Convention, it would seem so.

At the podium, speakers like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt praised the Obama administration’s willingness to embrace such change, singling out the controversial Race to the Top program for special attention. The program requires states to link teacher evaluations to student standardized test scores and pushes charter schools and ‘turnarounds’—in which at least 50 percent of teachers are fired—to replace struggling public schools.

The program fits perfectly with the corporate reform agenda of destroying job security for teachers, privatizing public schools, testing everything, and turning whatever can be quantified into a statistic, no matter how disconnected from the realities of teaching children.

As he praises corporate reform on the federal level, Emanuel has fomented a confrontation over education reform in his hometown. The 26,000-member Chicago Teachers Union looks to be heading for a strike Monday over class size, better funding for school programs and services, fair pay, and job security.

Observers see the strike as a “which side are you on?” moment for Democrats. On one side is the teacher union, which says too big class sizes, too few school services, and too little support for teachers are the problems. On the other are the corporate-education pushers, who heap blame on bad teachers.

“There are two distinct constituencies with conflicting goals and we’re going to highlight that with a strike. You can’t gloss over it very easily,” says Bill Lamme, a Chicago public high school teacher.

Some Chicago teachers think Obama could not stomach a strike in his hometown on the eve of the November election and will lean on Emanuel, his former chief of staff, to settle. Others fear national Democrats could welcome the chance to look tough by fighting the union. If the Democratic convention is any indication, their fears may be warranted.

Parent Tricker

The teacher-bashing at the Democratic convention started Monday with a pre-release screening of the anti-union drama “Won’t Back Down,” sponsored by Democrats for Education Reform.

DFER is a political action committee made up of hedge fund managers seeking investment opportunities in education. The group supports privatization, vouchers, merit pay, teacher evaluations based on student test scores, and doing away with teacher tenure. It flaunts its hostility toward teacher unions.

The film, starring Maggie Gyllenhall and Viola Davis, shows a mother and a teacher battling an evil teachers union to convert their struggling public school into a charter through a “parent trigger” law.

While at first blush it sounds like a feel-good tale of community empowerment, the film has drawn sharp criticism from teacher advocates for its unfavorable portrayal of urban teachers and their unions.

The film shows “bad teachers” locking students in closets, making personal phone calls during class, forbidding bathroom breaks, and refusing to help students after school, citing fictitious “union rules” that prohibit them from doing so. The union, in turn, is cast as these teachers’ self-interested protector, with one union official attributing a made-up quote to teachers union leader Albert Shanker, saying she’ll start caring about children when they start paying dues.

“I don’t recognize the teachers portrayed in the movie, and I don’t recognize that union,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers in a press release last week.

The average viewer would never guess that teachers across the country work an average of 53 hours per week, planning lessons, talking to parents, grading papers, and giving struggling students on-on-one help in addition to their daily classroom duties. In Chicago, the average number of hours worked is 58, according to a University of Illinois study.

They’d never guess that teacher unions like the CTU would be willing to walk out not only for better working conditions, but also in pursuit of a well-rounded, well-resourced education for their students.

Instead, viewers see lazy teachers who need to be removed and an obstructionist union standing in the way of making improvements for the kids.

Despite the mismatch with reality, the Democratic National Committee showed the film, which also played to a standing ovation at the Republican National Convention last week. The White House declined to weigh in on the decision to screen it. Reports say DNC Executive Director Patrick Gaspard, who spent nine years at SEIU 1199, made the call to show the film.

The DNC not only signed off on the screening, but some of the party’s best and brightest joined in on a panel to promote the “parent trigger” afterward. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, wunderkind Newark Mayor Cory Booker, and Antonio Villaraigosa, Los Angeles mayor and convention chair, joined corporate-education champion Michelle Rhee and Ben Austin of the California-based astroturf group Parent Revolution for the discussion.

In fact, Democrats aligned with the corporate education agenda were instrumental in the US Conference of Mayors’ endorsement of parent trigger as part of their education platform. Villaraigosa voiced his support for the measure at a June press conference after the resolution was passed, saying, “parent trigger is one of a number of tools we need to achieve the highest standards in our urban schools.”

The real story of parent trigger, however, is not exactly Hollywood material.



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Parent trigger laws, in place in seven states, allow for schools to be gutted of their staff, turned over to private charter operators, or shut down completely, by a simple majority vote of parents.

Parent Revolution, which gets funding from foundations backed by Walmart billionaires, is behind the only two attempts thus far to pull the trigger.

At McKinley Elementary in Compton, outside Los Angeles, the group had already chosen a company to operate the hypothetical new charter school when Parent Revolution staffers began canvassing parents with petitions for “school improvements.”

Parents alleged intimidation and the Compton school board ultimately rejected the petition due to the lack of a legally required review process in choosing the charter operator.

When parents at Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto, California, began questioning Parent Revolution’s proposed restructuring plans, a judge ruled that they couldn’t take back their signatures from the trigger petition. So much for democracy.

In March, a parent trigger bill was introduced in Florida, backed by Parent Revolution and Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future.

Heavy lobbying by the very parents the legislation’s supporters said it would empower defeated the bill.

The 330,000-member Florida Parent Teacher Association led a coalition of parent groups against the bill, including Parents Across America and Fund Education Now. They alleged that the legislation, called “parent tricker” by opponents, had nothing to do with empowering parents and everything to do with privatizing public schools.

Bashing Unions at Home

Watching these Democrats whip the anti-teacher wagon is no surprise to those who’ve dealt with them back home.

Villaraigosa, a former union organizer with the United Teachers of Los Angeles, has pulled away from his labor roots to become one of the corporate education agenda’s most vocal proponents. In a 2010 Huffington Post editorial, he called teacher unions an “unwavering roadblock to reform.” The L.A. mayor has also been a huge backer of school privatization, particularly through the city’s School Choice program that has closed scores of schools and handed them to private entities. (Teachers, meanwhile, fought alongside parent and student groups to keep schools in public hands and launch reform initiatives that met student needs.)

Villaraigosa was an active supporter of the corporate reform groups’ successful lawsuit that tied L.A. teacher evaluations to student test scores, going so far as to personally file an amicus brief advocating the change. Teachers say basing everything on test scores kills student inquiry and reduces learning to rote memorization and test practice.

Booker, a rising star in the Democratic Party and 2016 presidential hopeful, sits on Democrats for Education Reform’s advisory board. He has called teacher tenure “poisonous” and not only supported Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s sweeping attack on tenure, but also said it didn’t go far enough. The new law ties the granting of tenure to student standardized test scores, but still allows for seniority to be used in the case of layoffs.

Booker, who’s been a strong proponent of charters in Newark, has gotten some flak for his ties to hedge fund managers and venture capitalists. In his first mayoral race, Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital was among his biggest funders.

Even Democratic Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who’s been openly skeptical about charter schools, supported an initiative that gutted seniority rights for teachers in the state. He even went so far as to say that he’d intended to tackle the issue himself.

Taking a Stand

And of course there’s Rahm Emanuel in Chicago, who has continued a decades-long push by Democrats in the city to starve schools in Black and brown neighborhoods of resources, implement test-score evaluations, close schools and fire staff, and open charters. Lately, he’s been pushing a longer school day and year, ignoring the many hours teachers put in after school and at home, and acting like more time—not resources—will fix what ails public schools.

Chicago teachers have pushed back against Emanuel and have gained ground even without a settlement, getting the city to create 500 new teaching positions for understaffed schools, securing recall rights for recently displaced teachers, and forcing merit pay off the table.

In a report last year, CTU noted that research on merit pay has showed no benefit to student achievement or in retaining better teachers, and has harmed trust and collaboration among peers. Merit pay schemes, however, have further skewed instruction toward test prep.

Lamme says Democrats know that a defeat of the corporate education agenda in Chicago could reverberate on the national stage.

“They can’t give in too much and allow for a turning point,” he said. “They see the stakes like we do. That’s why we’re trying to turn the tide on these horrible policies.”


Monte Letourneau (not verified) | 09/08/12
Dr. Jill will be on about 95% of ballots. She refuses corporate or lobbyist help.
Stand against the duelling bank accounts, stand against the masters behind the conglomerated parties.
Don't stay home, don't waste your vote, don't vote for more or less evil.

Bill Perdue | 09/08/12

Pretending that the Democrats are better or even particularly different than the Republicans is a lie. They’re not. Unions get busted by both parties. In point of fact Obama and the Democrats are doing their best to woo the .01% and attack unions, pandering and duplicating their betrayals of the antiwar movement, the Bill of Rights, the fight for socialized medicine and what they did to the LGBT communities for decades.

Obama appoints another union busters as his chief of staff: In these Times 01 29 12 “Obama’s Union-Busting New Chief of Staff? Jacob Lew Helped Destroy Grad Students’ Union at NYU When Obama’s new Chief of Staff was NYU executive vice president, school ceased recognizing the grad students union”’s_union-busting_new_chief_of_staff_jacob_lew_helped_destroy_grad_students’_union_at_nyu?page=entire

Obama attacks airline and rail workers : LABORnotes 02 15 12 “Two years after President Obama and Democrats abandoned labor’s much-anticipated Employee Free Choice Act, they have refused to block Republicans intent on making life miserable for airline and rail workers. A bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration, voted up 75-20 in the Senate, changes federal labor law to make organizing more difficult for railroad and airline unions. New rules will make it easier to decertify unions and harder to win elections when employers merge.”

Obama attacks the UAW HuffPo 09 03 2010 “The White House is forcefully pushing back on former (Obama) car czar Steve Rattner’s upcoming book about his time in Washington, specifically the allegation that Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel once blurted “Fuck the UAW” when told that tens of thousands of autoworkers’ jobs were at stake in the restructuring of the auto industry.”

NY Democrat Cuomo attacks unions AlterNet “On Tuesday, a group of nearly 2,000 union members and their supporters met Governor Andrew Cuomo in Albany, New York to protest his 2012-2013 budget proposal cutting pensions and benefits for workers…”,_mic-check_pension-c...

California Democrat Brown attacks state workers Sacramento Bee 05 16 2012 “Questions swirl around Jerry Brown’s plan to cut state workers’ hours… Brown wants to move most of California’s 214,000 workers to four-day workweeks and 9.5-hour shifts starting July 1. The change would reduce state workers’ hours and pay by 5 percent each month and cut state payroll by about $839 million, $401 million of it from the deficit-ridden general fund…”

Obama attacks federal workers and postal workers LABORNotes 03 06 2012 " During the Obama administration, and especially during its first two years when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, the alliance between unions and their political patrons began to wither. The Employee Free Choice Act, the law that would have eased union organizing drives, was shelved. When the administration bailed out the auto companies, it dictated wage cuts, plant closings, and tens of thousands of layoffs, and stripped workers’ right to strike. The health care bill attacked union-negotiated plans. A green-job transformation for the economy stalled. Then Obama announced in December 2010 that salaries for federal workers, already low compared to those of private-sector workers with similar education and longevity, would be frozen for years into the future

aWisconsinWorker (not verified) | 09/07/12

As most of you are probably aware, earlier this year, our Governor Walker and the Republican majority Congress passed Act 10 which ended state employee unions and many teacher's unions.

They also increased health insurance and retirement payments which left every state employee (unionized or not) and/or contributors to the Wisconsin Retirement System will around 12% more taken from their paychecks.

The state traded paying more towards retirement instead of granting cost of living or any other wage increase. It was agreed that the unions would help the state on this one.

And now the state employees are portrayed as the enemy to those that believe the Repuplican lies and who seem to rather bring all employees down because of their jealousy of state workers. And ironically, 59% of WI state workers are salaried professionals who get the same benefits at private industry (health insurance and retirement) and who would make much more in private industry.

They've hurt the teachers even more recently by not recognizing the advanced degrees some teachers get as a valid reason for that teacher to get more pay. So there goes another 20% decrease for these teachers.

And where was Obama during these protests? Never did visit Wisconsin. On the recall election day he flew right over the state without stopping.

At the DNC, the Wisconsin and Ohio delegates got seated behind the speakers so they could only see their backs.

Hey There 1 | 09/07/12

There's a correlation between Privatization of our educational system and the Post Office. The groundwork is laid and pursued relentlessly to privatize everything from Social Security to yes, education and Post Service.
There's money to be had in both and I don't think it's a stretch to say their actions indicate that corporations think they should have the money going to them for education rather than being supported by taxes.And who would pay these corporations as private contractors to educate the children? I suspect the money would come from the government. In the case of the Post Office, which isn't supported with taxes, there's money to be made by lowering wages and benefits, cutting compensation for injured workers, closing post offices,closing consolidation centers, and curtailing home delivery. the following comment on HR2309 and videos explain how the Post Office is being attacked and perhaps can serve as a template for a teacher's defense on YOU TUBEHR2309 and S1789 attack on Postal Emploees
I understand that HR2309 will be on the House Floor sometime this September
.Just because Issa made considerable profits as a business owner doesn’t qualify him to dictate how the Post Office should be run as his solutions promoted as saving the Post Office, if enacted, would destroy the Post Office as a public service.
Issa claims he is striving to save the USPS yet he is ignoring expenses that can be deleted without disrupting the service.
#1. The Postal Accountable and Enhancement Act needs to be rescinded. In 2006 the PAEA signed by Bush, mandated that the USPS fund 75 years of retiree health benefits in 10. As the USPS was solvent before the PAEA (HR6407) was passed it stands to reason that the USPS would once again become solvent if this law was rescinded.
#2. Overpayments of 50 to 75 Billion the USPS made to the Civil Service Retirement Service should be returned.
#3. Overpayments the USPS made to FERS need to be retrieved.
#4.The USPS needs to charge more for delivering UPS parcels to places UPS don’t.
#5. Adjust the ratio of managers to workers .
#6 Quit giving deep discounts to large businesses. . .Issa’s solution is to cut the workforce by at least 100,000, and make Postal Workers’ wages and benefits depend on a separate board when a contract isn’t agreed upon. This is a case where Issa’s cure would cause the death of the USPS as a public service and have it revived as a business with lower paid workers, higher rates and less service. .
S1789, sponsored by Lieberman, passed in the Senate, but not in the House,would cut 100,000 jobs with the USPS when we don't need to have more unemployed workers. S1789 would decrease compensation for injured workers and end it for those over 65, when we don't need to take away compensation or lower compensation for injured workers. It would weaken the unions which promote a "living wage" at a time when we don't need to add more people to the "working poor", S1789 would close smaller post offices (some have already closed), and slow mail delivery by closing 200+ distribution centers.
In 2006 Congress voted to have the USPS fund 75 years of retiree health benefits in 10 amounting to 5.5 Billion a year.
Saddled with funding 5.5 Billion a year that had nothing to do with mail delivery, the USPS could no longer have it's revenue =costs as it had done until 2006.
If this bill is passed or HR2309 the USPS will end up virtually privatized with lower wages and benefits for its ’workers, a scaled down and overworked workforce, more mail services contracted out, less services for the public including curbside service in place of home delivery.
This is how the Post Office could end up privatized if HR2309 were passed.
Management is replaced if they cannot successfully restructure Postal Service finances when the Postal Service fails to pay its bills for more than 30 days, a receivership-style authority takes over for USPS management with an explicit mandate to cut costs while maintaining universal service.

George1la (not verified) | 09/07/12

The DFER is a right wing democratic so called education organization which pushes privatization and corporatization of education. They are total sell outs. This includes Obama and Duncan who have been total losers in Chicago from their beginning. Now that Chicago has a real education leader in Karen Lewis at the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) they are worried especially since it is a democratic city from which Obama, Duncan and Emmanuel come from. Emmanuel is used to being a bully to get his way and in the CTU and Karen Lewis he has gotten in over his head. She will not be intimidated and has the support of the citizens and other unions. CTU did grass roots organizing block by block to build the support and are not possibly going on strike for them only but for student rights also. We should all thank the CTU for this brave move. The thiefs have to be confronted as they know no other methodology to counter them. Reason does not work with these bought and sold people.

When it come to Villaraigosa you must remember that first he tried to obtain mayoral control of LAUSD when he knew it was unconstitutional. Myself and a friend were the only people who supplied the California legislature with documented information, 165 pages, that all the reasons they were using for mayoral control were lies. In this process Senator Feinstein and Arne Duncan, then superintendent of Chicago Public Schools, sent letters to the California legislature stating that those who ran Chicago schools before Daley and Vallas took over in 1995 had put the district into $1.8 billion in debt. I have the pertinent financial pages from the 1994 budget and the budget had a surplus. Would that be a lie? I have copies of their letters and the budget pages. Villaraigosa then took control of 22 LAUSD schools. He and his crew have broken almost every agreement in their Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and Matrix which they are legally required to follow in order to keep control of those schools. We have large amounts of documentation through public information requests and outside data from the state website and Roosevelt High School is a tragic failure. We are going to take Roosevelt High School away from Villaraigosa.

Did you know that Michelle Rhee only taught for 3 years and was a failure. Did you know that she gave up custody of her children? Why would anyone follow someone like this. She is caught up with test cheating while she was superintendent of D.C. She had almost $30,000/student and is a failure. How do you fail with that much per student? Total failure that we are supposed to follow. It is the same with Obama and Duncan concerning education as they were total failures in Chicago and they want the entire country to follow their failed policies.

Get Real America, support CTU in saving American public education and getting rid of the corporatist privatizers. Why do you think they want education. There is over $700 billion in general fund K-12 in the U.S. The DOD budget this year is about $642 billion. Even a rich guy needs a new profit center and who finances both parties. Bought and sold like a cheap suit.