By JoAnne Powers, March 22, 2016
The Chicago Teachers’ Union’s House of Delegates will be voting Wednesday on a one day walkout and day-of-action scheduled for April 1st, supported by the union leadership. CTU President Karen Lewis presented her case directly to members in a conference call on Monday. Chicago Public Schools officials say the strike would be illegal and teachers who walk out won’t be paid.
CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey:
[Jesse Sharkey]: “There’s an awful lot of uncertainty in the schools right now. They’ve managed to create a fiscal crisis through consistently leaving revenue on the table, by making very profitable contracts for the people who are privatizing our education system. So you’ve seen massive increases in parts of the school budget that don’t go to teachers, while you’ve actually seen a decrease in the parts of the school budget that do go to teachers. This has largely been through layoffs, but part of the effect of that is it makes…people who remain in the schools, it makes their jobs harder. Class sizes have gone up. There’s fewer people to staff things like special education services, nursing, clinical services, etcetera. So, conditions are hard. People really do feel like we’re fighting for the future of a good school system.”
The April first strike is also intended to draw attention to broader financial concerns facing the state and city under billionaire Governor Bruce Rauner and Mayor Rahm Emanuel:
[Jesse Sharkey]: “Right now the board is threatening to make a unilateral seven percent pay cut for all the staff in the schools. If they do that, the date that’ll show up in people’s paychecks will be April First. At the same time that there are literally tens of thousands of students that aren’t getting MAP grants. There’s over a hundred thousand state workers without contracts currently. Social service agencies in the state are shutting down. We haven’t had a state budget since the beginning of last year. It’s approaching twelve calendar months. So we’re saying April first is the day we’re going to take on these fools. We’re looking for a mass day of action and a confrontation over the question of…we’re not going to pay for their crisis.”
Sharkey is concerned that, under Rauner, Illinois could become the next Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, Republican Governor Scott Walker championed legislation directly attacking the rights of public workers and their unions. Sharkey says they should be thinking about how to write an ending to that story that would be a little bit better for labor and worse for the right-wing governors and the businessmen who fund them:
[Jesse Sharkey]: “If there’s going to be a showdown here in Illinois, we intend to win it, and we intend to make it clear that the attempts to go after the rights of labor are really about saving billions of dollars, and cutting social service programs and cutting public accommodation. It looks like the schools, it looks like social services that go to the poor, it looks like all the state services, unionized workers in general are under attack…and it’s because there’s billionaires who don’t want to pay their taxes. You know, it really is about the money, and that’s precisely why they’re doing it, and we don’t intend to back down from that fight.”