On Monday the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) conducted a practice vote and reported that 97% of teachers are willing to vote yes on a strike. This meeting was held in secret and the details of what happened are otherwise unknown, but here is what we do know.
- The source of this information is CTU. There is no way to corroborate anything about this meeting, there is no law that says they have to tell the truth, and they have an incentive to say that it went a certain way. The results could have very well been 97% or they could have been 100% or they could have been 32%.
- We might not know the details of the vote, but we do know CTU has an incentive to report that the percentage of teachers supporting a strike is very high. From their perspective, a number that approaches 100% sends a message that the danger of a strike is very real and brings them a stronger position at the negotiating table.
- On the other side of that coin, the union has an incentive to report that the results were not quite 100% in favor of the strike because that would send the indication that the vote was not legitimate. As I suggested earlier, maybe the result of the vote was 97% or maybe this was the Goldilocks of numbers – just right. However, as the next two points illustrate, it is likely that the number was even higher.
- Teachers union votes tend to operate on the “rising vote method.” That means that everyone is gathered in the large room, the position is read and all those supporting it are asked to stand. This allows everyone to see – and point at – those few who are opposed. This can be very uncomfortable and there are documented cases of supporters turning aggressive toward opposers. Such fears ensure that elections run this way are unanimous – or close to it.
- This practice election actually offered an incentive for everyone to vote “yes”. If a teacher was in favor of a strike, he or she would vote “yes.” But if he or she were opposed to a strike, and knew that strong vote could prevent one, he or she would also vote “yes.”
- Yesterday’s vote was supposedly based on the “state of negotiations between CPS and CTU.” That may have been focused on raises and benefits, it could have been based on air conditioning and improved janitorial services, or it could have been about a return of smoking privileges to the teachers lounge and pizza party Fridays. By not sharing with the public what the issues were, the CTU hopes we will assume they were addressing the most serious issues, but the truth is, we have no idea. Common sense suggests that the issue selection was chosen in favor of the desired outcome.
- It may be in some teachers personal best interest to strike – or it may not. Some teachers oppose strikes because they do not get paid while on strike which can be devastating to their families (as it was to my single mother). Some teachers don’t support strikes because they are less interested in their wealth than they are with the time they spend in the classroom. Others choose not to support them for political reasons. As with any issue facing a large group of people, opinions run the gamut.
However, it is in Karen Lewis’s best interest to lead a strike. She seemed to relish the spotlight last time around, and now she has a new appearance to show off. A favorable contract quietly negotiated might be good for teachers, but it will not return the spotlight that was stolen from her when her illness made her forfeit a momentous mayoral campaign last year. We can assume that she will be back to take on Rahm again next cycle, and a bold second strike will be an asset in recognition and fund raising.
CPS and the Mayor’s office are aware of everything written above and will discount this practice vote as a public relations stunt. CTU is aware of this but hopes that it will start unifying the front and maybe – just maybe – start swaying public opinion in their favor. The pawn has been played.
You can support your teachers and you should. But this does not mean you must unconditionally support the union. CTU, CPS, the Mayor, and Karen Lewis really do play this like a game. The facts are real, the implications are real, and our kids’ educations are real, but when an issue is this emotional both sides will try every trick they can to pluck at your heart strings. Fools swallow this hook, line, and sinker. Don’t be a fool. Observe objectively. Listen, read the opposing sides’ positions, and make up your own mind.