Teachers battle for bargaining rights

CHICAGO – The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is leading a battle here to restore the bargaining rights of unions representing workers at the Chicago Board of Education and the City Colleges. The CTU is calling on state legislators to support a bill introduced by State Rep. Willie Delgado that would repeal the anti-union Section 4.5 of the School Reform Act (SRA).

The SRA was passed by the Illinois legislature in 1988 as a result of pressure from “parent empowerment organizations” that wanted more control over their children’s education. It passed with the provision that it only pertained to school districts with a population of over 500,000 people. Since Chicago is the only district in the state to meet that criterion, the measure was clearly aimed at Chicago schools with their large minority population.

A 1995 amendment to the SRA, Section 4.5, severely limited the collective bargaining rights of the CTU. Section 4.5 prohibits the teachers’ union from bargaining on “class size, teacher-layoff decisions, or decisions concerning use and staffing of experimental or pilot programs.”

The measure also gave the Mayor effective control of the Chicago Public Schools by giving him the power to appoint the system’s newly created chief executive officer.

The SRA allowed the formation of a local school council (LSC) for every school. The LSC, made up of the school’s principal and 10 elected members – six parents of students enrolled at the school; two community members residing in the school, attendance area and two teachers, was given control over the school budget, selection of its principal, hiring and curriculum.

The Chicago Teachers Union objected to the emphasis of the SRA, charging it focused on school reform rather than on educational reform. A school employee and former CTU president, Jacqueline Vaughn said, “We [the union] introduced education reform that focused on improved teaching and learning conditions. What ultimately happened was school reform that focused on who was in charge.”

Along with the CTU, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is also affected by Section 4.5. The SEIU, representing the custodial workers in the schools, is organizing union workers from all over the country to work on the primary campaigns of candidates who support Delgado’s bill calling for the repeal of 4.5.

A vote on the bill, which has been approved by committee, is expected sometime after the March 19 primaries, Deborah Lynch, president of the CTU, told the World. Lynch is circulating a letter asking legislators to support Delgado’s bill. So far, eight labor leaders – including Margaret Blackshire, president of the Illinois Federation of Labor, and Don Turner, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor – have signed on to the letter.