Chicago teachers polled in 'dry run' strike vote

May 11, 2012

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The Chicago Teachers Union says 90 percent of teachers and other employees surveyed in schools over the last two days believe the district’s contract proposals will “harm students and lower the educational quality of (their) school.”

The union says teachers voted in a nonbinding “contract poll” held at Chicago schools Thursday and Friday.

By noon Friday, the union said 527 schools had reported in, representing 86 percent of all locations with union employees. Union officials painted a picture of teachers scrambling to have their voices heard. “Our fax machine was jammed trying to get the vote tallies,” a union spokeswoman wrote.

The poll told teachers the district’s current contract proposals include a 2 percent raise, “test-based merit pay,” increases in costs for family health care, a weakened grievance system and a loss of health and safety protections.

The poll then asked school employees four yes-no questions: whether they felt the board's proposals disrepspected teachers, whether they felt the board’s proposals would harm students, whether the union should reject the board’s proposals, and whether CEO Jean-Claude Brizard should resign.

Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey called the vote a “dry run” for a possible strike vote.

Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Becky Carroll says the poll completely misrepresents the district’s proposals.

“Their members deserve better. They deserve to have facts. And what they don’t deserve to have is deliberately misleading and inaccurate information designed to help push them to vote in a certain way.”

The school district posted to its web site a page refuting the union’s description of the proposals, point by point. Carroll says many of the changes the board is seeking would eliminate antiquated provisions of the contract. She said teachers should focus on students and leave negotiations to union leadership.

Collective bargaining happens behind closed doors, and the specifics of what each side has proposed are not public.

A new state law, SB7, sets a high bar for the Chicago Teachers Union to strike. It must get 75 percent of all members to support a strike in order to actually walk out. A strike couldn’t happen until fall at the earliest.

Several groups that helped pass SB7 criticized the union’s poll. A written statement issued by Advance Illinois, Stand for Children, and others, said the poll runs counter to the spirit of the law because it doesn’t give a fact finding process currently underway a “fair chance to work. Only when this process is complete will there be full, accurate and final information to be shared with union members and the public," their statement said.