Chicago Union Accuses Brizard of Interference in Strike Vote

The Chicago Teachers Union has filed a complaint with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board alleging that the CPS head Jean-Claude Brizard illegally tampered with the union’s strike authorization vote. The action in question is Brizard’s email to all union members on the eve of the vote, that union heads said was designed to coercively discourage teachers from voting to approve the strike.

The Brizard email encouraged recipients to hold off voting until the end of August, when the recommendations from a fact-finder, looking into the contract negotiations process, become public. A new law requires a 75% of “yes” votes from the union membership before a strike could be authorized, and those who decline to vote are counted as having voted “no.”

In the email, Brizard also called the strike “a very serious action with tremendous consequences,” and said that voting to authorize it at this point, would likely derail the ongoing fact-finding process.

In its unfair labor practice charge, the CTU accused Brizard of trying to “hijack’’ the union’s right to determine the timing of a strike authorization vote, of trying to “dissuade” members from voting and of attempting to “create fear among teachers.’’

However, the Communications Chief for the Chicago Public Schools, Becky Carroll said that the email was entirely within the scope of the chief executive officer’s responsibilities, and did not constitute interference or an unfair labor practice in any way. She added that the information contained in the email was entirely true, and Brizard was merely exercising his right to communicate it to the union membership, especially since there are allegations that the union leadership mischaracterized the latest contract proposal by the CPS.

The contract negotiations between the CPS and the Chicago teachers have drawn attention from groups all over the country, who view it as a test case for how far education reform could be taken in a jurisdiction that’s dominated by both Democratic voters and Democratic politicians. The kind of voters that make up the majority of those showing up at the polls at election time in the city are typically considered unfriendly to private-sector-based solutions for education problems, like vouchers and charter schools. Groups like Democrats for Education Reforms are closely watching to see if the Illinois could become a viable place for such proposals to succeed in the future.

Although, the progress of reform efforts in Chicago might seem downright stagnant, compared to efforts in other states, the level of interest is higher due to the fact that one of its loudest proponents, Mayor Emmanuel, was formerly the chief of staff for President Obama, who is considered to be, at best, lukewarm on the issue of school choice. Thus, Emanuel’s zeal for education reform is one of the most public indications of an ideological split between him and his former boss.