Sharkey Supports the CORE Slate

I am writing to ask you to support Stacy Davis Gates and the rest of the CORE slate in the upcoming election. Though our union has many strengths, we also face challenges which require visionary and skilled leadership that can organize our members, use rank and file voices to carry our message, and look outwards to build our strength as part of a coalition that includes parents and members of the community.

We can’t rest on our achievements – but we shouldn’t forget how far we’ve come.

Much of CORE’s energy in office has been spent working on strengthening our contract. Early on, amid calls for austerity and privatization in an economic crisis, we fought to preserve district payments on our pensions and win new contractual rights, including protection from ridiculous discipline measures and elimination of unpaid suspensions. I remember a coworker who received a 5 day unpaid suspension for ordering a sandwich at school; that can’t happen anymore.

We secured contractual provisions on grading, paperwork, and the right to appeal a rating. We won the first moratorium on charter expansion in a union contract. Financial gains include payment for missed preps, additional funding for sports and increased stipends for coaches, lanes and steps for PSRP’s, centralized funding for special education positions including case managers, and much more. We also won staffing guarantees – case managers, social workers, nurses by end of the current agreement – and enforceable class size language for the first time in decades.

Those who think we’re ‘too political’ don’t realize how much we have gained for members by those efforts.

Under CORE leadership, the CTU has ushered in a series of crucial new laws. We passed an elected school board bill, regained our full bargaining rights, added a state funding mechanism for our pensions, and improved the funding formula for our schools. 

We have been able to secure these gains because CORE’s strategy for all negotiations prioritizes the public interest. First, we are genuinely concerned with the conditions of Chicago’s children, both in school, and away from the classroom. Second, advancing demands that are broadly popular with the working-class majority that sends its kids to CPS helps us win arguments about funding, staffing, and compensation. Too many unions back away from their coalition partners as soon as contract season is over, but that is a terrible strategy. Parents and community activists are not a tap of water that we can turn on and off as we see fit. Those relationships must be respected and nurtured. 

Now is not the time to start from scratch or go it alone.

Currently, CPS is balancing its budget with a billion dollars of Covid relief spending, and these funds expire in two years – right in time for our next contract fight. Teachers, parents, students, and community groups will all need each other if we are to win new funding and defend our schools.

We are also going into our first-ever round of school board elections. We need a board who will support public schools instead of sabotage and privatize them. We have every reason to believe that deep-pocketed donors will attempt to co-opt the process. CORE’s track record and strategy can meet this challenge and fend off these threats.

COVID has taken a toll on us – individually and as a union.

The pandemic has been exhausting – in our personal lives and in the difficulty of our teaching conditions. Amid all the anxieties of working in a public school during a pandemic and all the voices trying to shout us down, we have stood for safety. And that has not always been easy. While most members were glad that the CTU took safety stands – or even demanded that we do it – others felt as though we should try to get back to “normal” as quickly as possible.

Some internal critics of the CTU leadership skipped the Covid work actions, spoke at “reopen” rallies, or otherwise behaved against our safety stand. We have people running to lead this union who are mocking the stands we voted to take. That is not principled trade unionism. We took action for reasons that should be familiar to any member: we seek written agreements, we act to defend the most vulnerable of our members, and we honor the decisions from our House of Delegates and membership, both of whom voted to act.

Opposition simultaneously suggests we shouldn’t have walked out and we should have won more at the same time. Which is it? Such arguments mislead members about where our power comes from. Breaking solidarity in an attempt to capture frustration and gain an advantage in CTU’s internal election is both short-sighted and unprincipled. 

Now, more than ever, we need strong, principled, experienced leaders.

We need leadership with an understanding of how to build our strength through both internal organizing and external relationships. Stacy, Jackson, Christel, and Maria can meet this challenge. This is a team that I know well, and I have both personal trust in them and professional confidence that their vision for the union will carry on the important victories, values, and goals of the Chicago Teachers Union.

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