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Sep 09, 2011: CTU Files Unfair Labor Practice Against the Board of Ed For Costly Campaign to Extend the School Day

As the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) continues its costly campaign to discredit teachers and distort the conversation about what components make up a quality education for CPS students, on Thursday the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) filed an unfair labor practice lawsuit against the Board of Education for coercing CTU-represented teachers at elementary and other schools to waive their labor rights in order to lengthen the school day this year.

The lawsuit, filed with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, contends CPS threatened to close schools if teachers did not approve contract modifications; interrogated teachers about their Union activities; directed teachers to report their communications with the Union; wrote and distributed the contract waiver; and banned CTU representatives from consulting with teachers before they were coerced into waiving parts of their labor contract.

Despite crying broke and citing a $200 million budget deficit, CPS has offered to pay schools willing to lengthen its school day this year a whopping $150,000 each which could cost taxpayers more than $100 million if implemented system-wide. So far only four schools have accepted the proposition and less than 1 percent of Union teachers have signed contract waivers.

“Asking our members to void parts of their own contract it is unethical and illegal,” said CTU President Karen GJ Lewis. “We want them to cease and desist from its unlawful activity, restore our teachers’ rights, post appropriate notices of its intent to extend school hours and tell us how they intend to make the school day better for our children. We’ve asked them over and over to work with us not against us.”

For the past six weeks, CPS has been on a costly political crusade for a longer school day. The campaign is designed to get the public to accept and submit to policies that have no proven impact on improving education. In addition to presenting the media and taxpayers with erroneous, false and misleading data to support its unscientific position, Board officials have simultaneously painted teachers as villains because they demand not only to be fairly compensated for working longer hours but also because they have asked CPS to enrich the current curriculum by adding art, music, science, world languages and social studies rather than continuing to force them to teach to standardized tests.

“When it is in their political interests to say test scores have gone up they do so,” Lewis explained,” and when it is in their political interests to say they’ve gone down they do so. In order for this mind-game to work they must tap into negative attitudes about our public schools and the children in them. CPS tries to justify its longer school day position at all costs because it has vested too many tax payer dollars in this public relations campaign. Sadly, they do not care if they have to demoralize our students and demonize our teachers to get it done.”

Ironically, as the administration attempts to silence teacher voices and mislead the public about extending the school day, the new schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard has taken to the airwaves to spew false data about Chicago’s school day compared to other cities. (See CTU website) He came to Chicago from Rochester, New York, where the “teachers gave him a 95 percent vote of no confidence because he “did things to us not with us,” according to Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski.

Escalating the War Against CTU

The Chicago Teachers Union has taken its call for a better school day across the city by having its members speak at churches, community groups, parent organizations and civic organizations. Despite these efforts, misinformation continues. On Thursday, despite the misgivings of several aldermen, the Chicago City Council took a ceremonial vote in support of a longer school day.

On April 15, Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times that not only would the school day be longer he was not willing to “negotiate” with the Chicago Teachers Union and the six other unions that represent the bulk of CPS workers. “We are not going to argue about a longer school day,” he said at the time.

Earlier Emanuel told the Chicago Tribune: “I will work with the teachers' union to lengthen the learning day and school year because it's the right investment in our children and our city's global standing. Increased learning time will include academic, arts and athletics programs beyond the traditional school day …”

However, in the last few weeks the mayor, Brizard and CPS officials have done just the opposite.

“A couple of weeks ago I sat down with the mayor in his office to talk about how to roll out a longer school year and what components would go into making it a better school year for our students but he did not want to have that conversation,” said Lewis. “When I explained to him that a longer school day should not be used for warehousing or babysitting our youth he exploded, used profanity, pointed his finger in my face and yelled. At that point the conversation was over—soon thereafter we found ourselves subject to a full-scale propaganda war over a moot point.”

Lewis said the Union has always been willing to discuss the better school day when the administration lengthens it next year. She cautioned that the District should not rush into extending the day without the necessary planning to ensure the program is properly implemented.

Union officials remain in conversation with Brizard and other officials despite what is being said to the media. “We are the legal bargaining agent for teachers and paraprofessionals and it is appropriate for us to discuss how they will be compensated when the Board extends the school year. What is unfortunate is they have decided to blackmail us into longer work hours this year by dangling before us half of our contracted pay raise –money they claimed they did not have-- as if it’s some sort of concession.”

The Union is currently conducting research to illustrate what a better school day would look like for CPS students.

Chicago Teachers Union