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The Progress of Bargaining

by Keith VanderMeulen   |  06/06/2012

As a member of the “large bargaining team”, I have had the opportunity to observe several bargaining sessions, give feedback to the “table team”, and participate in caucus discussions before, during and after bargaining sessions.  The table team consists of the Union’s Lawyer and the four Union Officers, while the Large bargaining team consists of thirty PSRPs, Clinicians,  and Teachers on the Executive Board and other active union members.

The negotiations have been on-going for several months and have included presentations by many of the union members on the Large Bargaining Team to the board. These presentations involved contract topics in which the members are subject area experts. Our members demonstrated their professionalism and expertise and were well received by the Board’s Bargaining Team. 

At times the negotiations have been contentious, but for the most part, they have been civil.  The Board’s Team does seem to genuinely give the Large Bargaining Team members respect, and seem to listen intently to our presentations. They stick steadfastly, however, to the ideology of their original proposal. This proposal includes a large helping of moving to accountability measures which include lousy measures of teaching effectiveness, an almost nonexistent raise offer, and most concerning to me a total unwillingness to bargain over any of the many “optional” bargaining topics under Illinois state law. The Board does not have to bargain over length of day, length of year, class size, and many other issues having to do with educational policy. The Board’s unwillingness to open these topics backs us into the uncomfortable position of being able to bargain over very few non-financial issues. Meanwhile the Board’s team argues both publicly and within the bargaining session that they are extremely financial constrained. We would think this would make them want to open up bargaining in areas that would not cost them anything. As of yet, it has not.

There have been some small areas of agreement on minor issues. There remain large differences on the major issues including fair compensation, benefits, and the many researched based proposals the union has put forward to improve our educational system for our students. 

In spite of the lack of progress, from our side I believe the process put in place by President Karen Lewis and her Union Officers has been extremely useful.  The Large bargaining team has involved former political rivals of the current union leadership, such as myself.  Our internal discussions have been very good and the unity in our bargaining team is absolute. The process has been democratic but well organized by the table team. Copious documents have been provided to the large bargaining team. Some of these are original proposals; some have been put together by the Union Leadership to summarize board and union proposals. We have had many structured discussions about various board proposals and Union leadership has acted on many recommendations given by rank and file members. Having thirty rank and file members representing PSRPs, Clinicians, elementary school teachers,  and high school teachers gives the Large Bargaining Team a working knowledge of negotiations and a better ability to take information back to our schools about the status of the process. Ultimately, I think it will also get us a better contract.

I am, and I feel the whole team would say the same, honored to be a part of the negotiating process representing my sisters and brothers of the Chicago Teachers Union. 

Chicago Teachers Union