Thursday, August 30, 2012

Labor Peace at the CCC, CFL-Style

The union leadership of Local 1600 is making the rounds around the seven City Colleges of Chicago with the rallying cry of labor peace. They know that the tentative agreement that they are asking their members to ratify in the blink of an eye gives away a significant chunk of hard-won union rights and guarantees. Important things that have been in place for many, many years. They know that. They know that the membership will have to live with the consequences of such a surrender for many years and that no one in their right mind would spontaneously make these concessions. So what’s left? Fear.
The only thing the campaign for a yes vote has to offer is fear. Fear that catastrophe will ensue if this miserable offer is not taken now. That the administration will come for everything else that remains in the contract. That mysteriously people won’t be able to say NO to an even worse offer and fight together against it. In a twisted logic, the things that are not being sacrificed yet in the tentative agreement are being highlighted as if they were fresh gains. And the recompense will be labor peace.
But what does labor peace on these terms mean? In whose interest is this type of labor peace? Who is maneuvering behind the scenes for this labor peace?
There is a sad prequel to this story. As readers of this blog may remember, back in March we described how the union that represents the clerical and technical workers of the CCC, Local 1708, was ambushed into signing a terrible contract. Unfortunately, this defeat was facilitated by the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL). As we wrote in this March post:
As 1708 grappled with the possibility of going on strike in a few days, the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL) intervened. They told 1708 to sit tight, while they approached the Mayor. Their conditions: that 1708 did not polarize things and that it did not criticize the Reinvention.
Thus rather than getting ready to gather forces to support 1708’s fight as a portent of things to come, the CFL pressured 1708 into accepting a rotten deal.
It is a tragedy that things ended up this way. The other unions currently negotiating with the CCC bosses have now a more uphill battle: AFSCME, SEIU and IBEW. Soon enough they will be joined by CCCLOC, representing the adjunct faculty. They need to become aware that the script is not written in stone, that the CFL is supposed to be there to represent us, not to suffocate us. That it still is up to us to fight a full fight because if we don’t we are screwed. And because every time we get screwed, everyone else gets screwed too.
It is tragic, how unfortunately correct our assessment of the logical consequences has turned out to be. And it gets uglier, for it is a fact that, yet on another errand for the Mayor, the CFL brought together last week CCC Chancellor Hyman and Local 1600 president Buckley, over and over. Until this grand Tentative Agreement was hashed out. This is the epicenter of the virtuous quest for labor peace.
A labor peace that provides peace only to the bosses’ side (and to the union bureaucrats who get to duck yet another struggle). A peace that guarantees that our side won’t resist. A peace that that doesn’t provide peace of mind to the teachers, professionals and their families, who will have to feel on their flesh everyday for five years the violence of the consequences of this despicable contract. Some kind of peace.
One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand that anything that is given away in this contract won’t be in the way to impede the unending demands for more that will come in the next one. When is it that you are supposed to draw a line on the sand if labor peace is the most important principle?
Labor peace is a euphemism for let’s not fight. But the origins of Local 1600 back in the 1960s stand out as an example of the willingness to fight. If labor peace had been the guiding principle, Local 1600 would have never been born.

Monday, August 27, 2012

CCC Teachers Mowed Down as Pawns in Emanuel’s War Against CTU

Out of the blue, the full-time teachers and professionals of the City Colleges of Chicago began receiving in the mail on Saturday, August 25 notification about a tentative contract they did not know was being negotiated and which they were being asked to ratify in less than a week. Their current contract does not expire until July 12, 2013. Why the rush?
Represented by AFT Local 1600, these educators were suddenly brought into the vortex of the struggle between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and their sister union, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), which represents 30,000 teachers and educational support staff at the Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
The Machiavellian strategy of the Mayor was on display for anyone who can see. He commanded CCC Chancellor Cheryl Hyman to extract from Local 1600’s leadership a signed promise to deliver a yes vote by September 3, the day before classes are scheduled to start at CPS:
“Local 1600 will recommend a “Yes” vote to all voting Local 1600 members to ratify this agreement. Local 1600 will conduct the contract ratification vote before Monday, September, 3, 2012.” [CCC-1600 tentative 2013-2018 collective bargaining agreement]
And to make sure that he could extract maximum advantage from these developments, Emanuel wanted to schedule a press conference for Friday, August 24 to inform Chicago about the tentative agreement. To show how he had managed to obtain a swift contract with a group of “reasonable” Chicago teachers who could then be diametrically opposed to the recalcitrant and unreasonable CTU. When Emanuel’s minions communicated to Local 1600’s president, Perry Buckley, that he wanted to hold the press conference on the 24th, Buckley responded in embarrassment that he needed the Mayor to wait longer because he needed more time to notify his union members. He did not want his members to first find out about the agreement from the press.
A tentative contract full of harmful concessions
As revolting as this is, it is not the whole story. The “reasonable” CCC teachers and professionals are being asked to ratify a contract that is extremely damaging to them and their families. And that is the second important reason for shoving this contract down their throats at rocket speed. They don’t want to give people enough time to analyze, discuss and propose alternatives to this miserable contract, and most importantly to prevent them from organizing to reject it. The chickens always come home to roost, and they are doing it with a vengeance. The logic of Reinvention has overtly come to exact its price from the flesh of these teachers and professionals who are the frontline of the education efforts at the CCC.
First, the contract surrenders the decades-old pay scale established in the form of a “steps” table. Every contract until now had a table that clearly specified the pay rate according to the degree of academic preparation (Masters, Ph.D.) acknowledging every year of experience (in steps). In the second year of the contract the steps will disappear. And with them any recognition of years of teaching experience. It is also path for completely doing away with seniority. This is precisely what CPS is demanding from the CTU, except that CTU’s leadership is standing firm in opposing it.
Instead the CCC got away with replacing the steps with a cost of living allowance (COLA), language that had never existed in previous 1600 contracts. The product of hard-won years of teaching experience replaced with the malleable notion of COLA. And what is the teacher’s COLA worth to the Cahncellor who makes over $275,000 per year? 2.50 percent per year. Because the step system will be removed in the same contract, this 2.5 percent will actually amount to about a 0.5 percent pay increase in relation to prior contracts. It’s a very poor deal for union members taking away not only seniority but their only real guarantee of a base pay raise over time.
Teachers asked to consent to performance pay
But this is not yet the whole story. The harmful practice of merit pay is also inserted into this collective slap in the face. The administration has inserted into the contract a potential 1% bonus which they have called “student success pay.” So instead of offering a 3.5% COLA, they are holding back 1% as a carrot that if granted will not become part of the base pay of the employees, it is merely a “commission”. But not every 1600 employee would partake in the “bonus.” Only teachers and the professionals charged with face-to-face contact with the students (e.g., the advisors) would be eligible for this 1%. The other professionals will be held to the 2.5% COLA. Initially, the 1% bonus will be granted on a District-wide basis, if the whole college system surpasses still unspecified criteria. This is abominable. Acceptance of this scheme amounts to acknowledgement by the union that the students are not successful enough because the teachers are not working hard/smart enough and therefore need the market-based corrective of an economic incentive to work harder/smarter. Contrast this surrender to merit pay with CTU’s firm opposition to it. Yet, the worst of merit/performance pay is still in the works.
The tentative agreement establishes as a legitimate procedure, that would be sanctioned by a yes vote, the post-contract-ratification development of individual merit pay schemes that would be legitimized through mechanisms such as a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that would be put together between the union leaders who are recommending this deplorable contract and the administration that is imposing it:
“Draft an MOU to form joint CCC-union committee to address…additional ways to measure individual merit, such as assessments that go across the departments.”
The formation of joint committees between the union and the administration is not a rare event. They do not need to be ratified in a contract. The specification of a MOU protocol for the formation of a joint committee to discuss any issue does not require a contract vote either. Why then insert and highlight such language in the very skimpy body of the tentative agreement? We are afraid that it is to establish facts on the ground, to have inscribed on the ribs of an approved contract that the CCC teachers have agreed in principle to let themselves be caught in the poisoned broth of individual performance pay. The CCC already extracted this concession earlier this year from their adult educators, who appear to us to have been sacrificed by their AFSCME local.
The CCC wants to introduce individual merit pay and they want it bad. Acceptance of the principle of performance pay is very damaging to educators and to students. It is like pregnancy; you are either pregnant or you are not. There are no degrees of pregnancy. Either you stand firm in rejecting any kind of performance pay or you succumb to it.
Surrendering pension benefits without a fight
Another set of very damaging concessions relate to the retirement benefits. The pensions of public employees in the state of Illinois have been under severe attack for years by a coalition of politicians (Gov. Quinn, House Speaker Madigan) and the billionaires of Illinois represented by the Commercial Club Of Chicago. The public employee unions have been fighting to oppose these unconstitutional changes ever since. However, the contract that Local 1600’s leadership recommends gives up these benefits without a fight:
“CCC pays premiums only for current retirees.”
“Sick days cannot be used for retirement enhancement if pension cost are shifted to CCC.”
It is absurd that just when the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) announced that it has filed a lawsuit against the legislation signed by Gov. Quinn last May allowing the government to renege on the constitutionally guaranteed contract provisions of our pensions, specifically the health care premiums, the tentative contract surrenders them in a particularly treacherous way. Only the premiums of the current retirees are preserved, reinforcing the unfortunate longstanding practice of Local 1600 of privileging their veterans and retired members at the expense of the rest of the union membership.
The second item is as insulting. Any sick days remaining in an employee’s sick days bank will be lost (or more properly stolen, even the cash out allowance has been thrown overboard) when he/she files for retirement. Again, those lucky enough to retire or have retired before July 12, 2013 will not have to pay the price, for there is very little doubt that the pension costs will be shifted to the CCC and all other individual state agencies as promised by Gov. Quinn and his partners in crime. Disgustingly enough, 1600’s leadership didn’t even secure a match to the agreement reached for District Office potentates who were allowed to grandfather in their sick days accumulated until this year. Sadly, the battle was over before it started.
Finally, there are additional concessions meant to further squeeze the income of the union’s membership under the perennial excuse that money is scarce. The hypocrisy of this statement is unbelievable. There are over 50 top-level administrators at District Office making well over $100,000 per year according to Carol Marin’s News 5 recent exposé. There are over $250 million allocated for Emanuel’s pet project, College to Careers, to build a new Malcolm X College building. There are millions of dollars spent in frivolous offices at District Office. But there is not enough money for the teachers and professionals healthcare insurance, increasing their premium contributions from 13 to 16 percent over the life of what will turn out to be a very long, 5-year contract. (Chipping away at the 2.5% COLA!)
Add to this the fact that the tentative agreement commits Local 1600 “to participate” in the Mayor’s Wellness Program (WP). This is extortion. The WP is a Trojan horse. Under the guise of looking after the health of city employees, the WP forces an employee to surrender to the “monitors” enough personal medical information to certify that the employee is having satisfactory progress (i.e., losing weight, cease smoking). Many have such hectic lives that finding time and energy to participate in such programs will be impossible. The end result is that those unable to participate in these programs will have their premiums jacked up $50 per month. But this is precisely the goal of the Mayor, to have workers pay an additional $600 per year in healthcare premiums. This is why the CTU is also rejecting this alleged “Wellness” Program. Tell you what Mayor, want to help workers improve their health? Stop overwhelming them with work, stress and pay and benefit reductions. Then they’ll have plenty of time to join a gym.
Future of education in Chicago at stake
And there are many other things wrong with this tentative contract that we don’t have time to go into. Such a lousy contract offered in exchange for betraying their union brothers and sisters at CTU is unconscionable. This is inexplicable. We could understand (but not condone) if the leadership of Local 1600 would have come to its membership with a juicy bribe to have them ignore CTU’s current fight, but not with this pathetic collection of concessions that damage the working conditions, standard of living and self-respect of the teachers and professionals of the CCC.
This is very unfortunate and ironic. When Local 1600 went on strike back in 2004, a significant factor propelling the strike was that the old, corrupt leadership of the CTU refused to fight back, rolled over and sacrificed their members in their contract negotiations the year before. The onus was placed then on 1600 to hold the line, which they did then despite numerous shortcomings. Roll the film forward to 2012. Now CTU has a leadership and a membership ready to fight. The same types of disgusting concessions are being demanded from both unions. The best chance they stand to win this fight is by joining together, shoulder to shoulder. There is no good reason why Local 1600 should be voting on a new contract ahead of the outcome of the CTU contract fight. Particularly because its current contract doesn’t expire for another 10 months. A victory by CTU, will only make it harder for Emanuel to impose onerous concessions on1600.
The lives of CCC teachers and professionals and those of their CTU brothers and sisters, as well as the future of education in Chicago are on the line. We urge you to vote NO on this disgraceful contract and get your comfortable sneakers out of the closet to join the CTU on the picket line!