Posted by Leave a Commenton Tuesday, May 24, 2016 |
Chicago Teachers Union Looks to Punish Teacher for Doing His Job
On April 1st, the Chicago Teachers Union walked off the job for one day in a preview of the full-on strike that is likely coming to Chicago at some point this year.
When they did so, the union issued a threat to their membership not to cross the picket line and show up for school on that day, lest they face the consequences. Here’s what I said about it at the time:
Good, conscientious teachers in the Chicago Public Schools system deserve our sympathy here. The union that they are essentially extorted into joining is putting them in a difficult place. Do your job and lose your voice in the system, or walk out on your students and your paycheck for that day in an action that is possibly illegal.
I hope there are some brave souls in the CTU rank and file who are willing to call the union’s bluff here. It would be interesting and informative to see what the results are, both legal and otherwise, if the union’s expulsion policy were challenged.
This should serve as a reminder that public sector unions like the Chicago Teachers Union don’t really represent the interests of teachers. They represent the interests of teachers unions. And those two thing are not synonymous.
At least one brave teacher prioritized his professional obligations and his students over the union’s demands. And — no surprise here — the CTU is looking to punish him for it:
Math teacher Joseph Ocol’s decision to not join his teachers on the picket line during a one-day strike April 1 has jeopardized his membership with the union. He is being asked to give the pay he received for working that day to the union or say why he shouldn’t have to at a June 6 hearing.
Ocol said he worked that day so he could be with his students.
Now, here is where things get interesting. Here’s the CTU spokeswoman’s explanation for the basis of the action the union is taking to reprimand Ocol for showing up to work and doing his job:
CTU’s strike policy specifically states that members who go against the union and who are found guilty by a jury of their peers will have their membership suspended, said CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin.
“A strike breaker will be given the option to pay a fine equal to the member’s net earnings while working in order to be reinstated, if they so choose,” she said in an email. “If they choose not to pay the fine they will be expelled from the Union.”
Got that? He’s in violation of their strike policy, and that’s what opened the door for this Kafkaesque-sounding trial by jury that Ocol is going to face. I see one rather significant potential problem there:
The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board still has to hold a full hearing on the legality of the strike. But in Thursday’s preliminary hearing, the panel clearly found merit in Chicago Public Schools’ argument that the CTU’s one-day strike was illegal.
“Contrary to the union’s argument, I don’t think that there’s a serious legal issue about the illegality of the strike,” board Chair Andrea Waintroob said.
Can the CTU punish a teacher for breaking a strike even if that strike was illegal? I’m not a lawyer, so I really don’t know. But it’s an interesting question to pose here.
Even if they can legally do what they’re doing, you couldn’t have picked a more sympathetic teacher to fight this battle:
Ocol is trying to appeal, seeking an alternative action. He said he will offer up his pay if it’s guaranteed that it will go to the students, not CTU. He wants the money to help his chess champions travel to the White House.
Right now, the team is awaiting confirmation for an early June visit with President Obama. He can only take the all-girls chess team, who took home a national championship trophy last month, but there are 35 members on the team, not five.
Ocol said in a letter Monday saying that he has decided to not attend his June 6 hearing because he has practice with his students.
“I do not wish to be absent because I have always promised the kids that I shall always try to be with them after school even if I do not get paid,” he said in the letter he shared with DNAinfo.
He said that CPS doesn’t have the resources to pay coaches or mentors for any of the afterschool programs, which is why he has been volunteering his time from 4-6 p.m. for chess practice. The hearing is scheduled for 6:15 p.m. and he refuses to leave his students early to get there, he said.
Ocol also said he’s tired of the bullying he has been receiving from other union members. He filed a complaint last month. People have been sending him “nasty” messages saying that he should leave CPS and work for a charter school.
You’re probably just as shocked as I am that an organization led by a woman who recently compared Governor Bruce Rauner to the terrorist group ISIS would go so far as to bully one of their own members for feeling that his first obligation is to his students and not to a private political organization he is ostensibly forced to join.
He was a marked man when he migrated to the United States 15 years ago. Joseph Ocol, once a top planning executive of the Clark Development Corp. (CDC), had been placed on the government’s Witness Protection Program for blowing the whistle on what appeared to be a multibillion-peso election fund-raising scam in the agency tasked to transform a former US military air base into an industrial complex and economic zone.
For those who still remember, Ocol had recounted in Senate public hearings how representatives of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority and CDC delivered millions of pesos stashed in envelopes to the campaign manager of the then ruling Lakas-NUCD party ostensibly to fund the presidential campaign of Jose de Venecia in the 1998 elections. He claimed that those funds had come from contractors, who were forcibly milked by government officials, resulting in substandard infrastructure and cost escalations for what was then a big Centennial Exposition project.
Now it’s time for your regularly scheduled reminder that the Chicago Public Schools system spends upwards of $15,000 per pupil to graduate just over half of its students, 40% of them drop out, and for the ones that make it through to 8th grade, 80% of them aren’t proficient in reading or math. What’s more, CTU teachers are the highest compensated in the country. They’re participants in a pension system that permits 60% of pensioners to retire in their 50s, make an average employee contribution of a mere $128,000 towards their pension and receive an average pension payout of $2.1 million, only 6% contributed versus their net payout, or more than a 15,000% return on their “investment.”
And later this year, the leaders the Chicago Teachers Union will go on strike to demand more, but without making any significant changes to a school system that continues to fail thousands and thousands of (mostly minority) children every year.
But the one thing they won’t tolerate? Strike-breaking teachers and volunteer chess coaches who just want to do their job and help their students.
Keep this story in mind the next time you hear the Chicago Teachers Union say that they’re doing it all “for the children.”
Last week, AFSCME Council 31 released a short online video taking some swings at the Illinois Policy Institute:
All in all, this is pretty ho-hum stuff, and just about what you’d expect rhetorically from AFSCME. Up to and especially including the obligatory, “Ahhhh, the boogeyman!” mention of the Koch Brothers.
But let’s take a quick look at some of the liberties AFSCME took with this video.
First up, the Chicago Tribune column from Diana Sroka Rickert. Rickert is VP of Communications at IPI, and regularly publishes a guest column in the Tribune. Here’s the freeze-frame from the video where they highlight the headline and the byline:
Notice the byline. Now look how it actually appears on the Tribune‘s website:
Just a name. No identifier. Here’s now the identifier shows up in a footer at the bottom of the column, emphasis mine:
Diana Sroka Rickert is a writer with the Illinois Policy Institute. The opinions in this essay are her own.
I’ve looked, and I can’t find where this article appears with the byline as displayed in the AFSCME video. I’m left to assume that the video image has been edited to add “a writer with the Illinois Policy Institute” behind Rickert’s name or to remove the second half of what appears in the footer, clarifying that “the opinions in this essay are her own.”
The second part is important. Rickert is not writing this piece in an official capacity for IPI. She’s expressing her own opinions. I would like to imagine that AFSCME would appreciate the same courtesy being extended to their members and officials when expressing their opinions in a private-citizen capacity and not as speaking on behalf of AFSCME. Otherwise, it’s fair game to attribute everything AFSCME members say to the union itself. Things like, perhaps, this.
Also left on the cutting room floor? The real, complete thrust of Rickert’s proposal:
Lay off the entire state workforce, and close the pension system. Work with the General Assembly to open a different retirement plan for newly hired government workers, modeled after the nation’s most popular retirement vehicle: the 401(k). Then offer to rehire state workers under the new retirement plan.
Guess they forgot to mention that whole “hire them all back part.” Oops.
Overall, there’s no sourcing for anything in this video. Most political campaign ads include some kind of citations where, if you’re really interested, you can go find and examine their justification for the claims being made. But AFSCME doesn’t tell you where you can find any context for what they’ve chosen to excerpt here.
For example, they’ve attributed the words “abandon pensions” to IPI CEO John Tillman. A quick Google search for John Tillman “abandon pensions” returns no results. And even if I stipulate that Tillman has said these two words consecutively at some point in time, there’s no way to access any greater context for those remarks. They’re two words. I imagine if we went back through the statements of AFSCME officials we could have some tremendous fun excerpting two-word phrases out of context from their greater statements.
Later on, the video asserts that IPI’s agenda is to “Wipe Out Unions.” Their justification for this claim is this:
Establishing local right-to-work zones = “wipe out unions?”
First of all, we’re only talking about localized right-to-work zones. In this particular case, this is about legislation that was approved in Lincolnshire that only governs that village. Simply put, there are unions within right-to-work zones. There are 26 right-to-work states in the country, including union-heavy Michigan. There are unions existing and operating within all of those states. The only difference is that there are no closed shops. No one has to join a union (or pay tribute) in order to take a job and work in those states. They can choose to. But they’re not compelled against their will.
Claiming the establishment of local right-to-work zones is tantamount to “wiping out unions” is absurd, and pretty self-indicting the part of the unions. What they’re really saying is that they believe when people are extended a choice on whether or not to join a union, people will overwhelmingly choose not to join, thus resulting in the union being “wiped out.” They’re saying that they themselves believe unions are only sustainable when people are coerced and compelled into joining and supporting them. What does that say about unions?
If this is really the best that AFSCME has to offer, then that’s pretty weak sauce.
There are plenty of people who are disenchanted with the current election cycle. But I think it’s safe to say that Reboot Illinois publisher and Chicago Sun-Times columnist Madeleine Doubek is not looking forward to this fall’s state contestso:
Why should we care about what happens in contested state legislative races all over the state this year? Each really is about the battle for control between GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan. You knew that, but perhaps you didn’t realize we all will lose no matter who wins.
I can empathize with the general feeling. I’ve accepted that, for me, this year’s presidential election ends in tears no matter what happens. I’ve taken to describing it as the Alien vs. Predator election. Whoever wins… we lose:
Anyway, let’s get to why Doubek thinks this:
Every election cycle, there typically are a couple dozen hotly contested state legislative races, even after one political party or the other gets done rigging maps in their favor. Each party in both chambers has seats they can swipe from the other side. It’s in those races, traditionally, where most of the money is raised and spent.
This year is no different. But where it has changed, is that Republicans now are energized because of GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner. Rauner changes the political landscape in Illinois with his determination to shake up Springfield and his bottomless checking account. After years and years of failure, Republicans have their best shot in decades at winning the nuclear arms race that is funding and winning campaigns. …
Rauner shook up Springfield all right. Now, instead of one dictator, we now have two.
Rauner and Madigan control how much money goes into the key races like never before.
Tthe importance of money to political elections is generally overstated. Yes, it’s important. But it’s not everything. If you think money is everything, be sure to tell that to people like Republican Presidential nominee Jeb Bush or Illinois U.S. Senator Blair Hull. Or Bryce Benton, who challenged State Sen. Sam McCann, backed by a large amount of money, and lost by a sizable margin. They’re all examples that spending all the money in the world can’t make people vote for you if they don’t want to.
And the “dictator” line is just ridiculous hyperbole.
But this general consternation over how much money is being spent in Illinois political races, of the type being expressed here by Doubek, seems to be a recent phenomenon. And, at that, one prompted mostly by Gov. Bruce Rauner’s regular and significant investments in Republican candidates and infrastructure.
But for years, House Speaker Mike Madigan was the central bank of political contributions in the state. He controlled a fortune that was doled out to the candidates of his choice. And yet, it seems that far fewer people ever batted an eye at that hegemonic control of the campaign purse than they are at Rauner’s attempts to level the playing field for Republican candidates.
How can we constituents fight to be heard when the politicians all owe their jobs to Madigan and Rauner?
I’d say they can be heard in that there’s an alternative to Madigan’s singular control over politics in this state. At least there’s an alternative. And I think she gives far too little credit to voters, assuming they don’t know what they’re buying, or what is generally at stake in this election.
We’ll find out in a few weeks time what the voters think.
If there is one thing that Chicagoland politicians are good at, it’s finding all kinds of new and creative ways to separate you from your hard-earned money. Take, for example, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who has the benefit of being viewed as reasonable and competent by far too many people mostly because she’s not Todd Stroger. According to Fran Spielman of the Chicago Sun-Times, she’s currently mulling a tax on soda and other sugary drinks as a desperation ploy to try to close the county’s budget gap:
County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is “looking hard” at a new tax on sugary soft drinks — anywhere from half a penny to a full penny an ounce — to close a $174.3 million budget shortfall without employee layoffs, sources said Tuesday. …
Now, Preckwinkle is returning to another controversial revenue idea she considered last year: a tax on sugary soft drinks long championed by public health advocates to curb obesity and diabetes that drives burgeoning health care costs.
Anything to avoid admitting the need for structural reform, I guess.
Back when the state was considering a similar tax, I wrote about why taxing soda — and other so-called vice taxes — are inherently contradictory in rationale and just generally terrible public policy:
First, the notion that obesity is an epidemic is commonplace but also grossly overstated. And the idea that people aren’t aware of what the First Lady of the United States has spent the last 5-plus years working to combat is absurd.
But the bigger insult to logic and reason is the 2nd paragraph in the quoted text above. We hear this same kind of reasoning, typically from Democrats and the left, when it comes to cigarette taxes. It goes like this: “This tax increase on [cigarettes, soda, whatever] will be a good thing because that tax revenue will help fund this really, really, really important government program. And, also, by raising the price of [smoking, drinking soda, whatever] it will discourage people from doing something that really just isn’t all that good for them.”
I hope you can clearly see the problems there. Cigarette taxes, and now soda/sugary drink taxes, are seemingly the one area of life where the left will acknowledge that what you tax you get less of. You tax cigarettes, you get less smoking. You tax soda, you get less consumption of soda. You tax income/work … you get less work? Of course. Except the left usually never makes that connection on that last one. Weird.
On the other side of the argument is the notion that said cigarette or soda tax revenue is going to help pay for some critical government program. Except that typically there won’t be enough revenue generated by the tax to actually fund the program, especially when you consider the diminishing returns on the tax revenue by the higher cost of consuming the drinks. The cigarette tax that was to fund the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or S-CHIP, had one major problem: it needed about 22 million MORE smokers in order to fully fund the program. Oops.
That’s all assuming that this tax will actually be successful in driving people to other drinks. …
For the tax to have the effect Rep. Gabel desires, to drive people to drink something other than soda or other sugary drinks, it needs to be significant enough to make it costly enough for people to seek other alternatives. Will a penny per ounce do that? Unlikely. Adding extra $.12 to a can of soda or $.20 to a bottle, or $.32 or $.64 to fountain drinks isn’t likely to be enough of a cost burden to drive people to seek alternatives. There are a whole gaggle of people who regularly shell out $4 or $5 for a coffee or cappuccino at Starbucks. Do you really think that less than a dollar of extra cost is going to make that big of a difference? For most people, again, unlikely.
Which brings us to the last big problem: the problem of acceptable alternatives. Say the tax is effective in driving people to want to buy something other than soda or the other sugar-filled drink they like. It won’t be, but let’s say it does work. What alternatives exist out there? It seems clear that most people won’t be satiated with just water. Not everyone is going to want to drink coffee instead — into which people often put a significant amount of sugar. Nor does it seem likely people will flock to tea — iced tea often being sweetened, as well.
There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of alternatives out there for people to choose from if they don’t want to bear the cost of the tax on sugary drinks. So, they’re then still likely to just bite the bullet and buy the drink they want.
This tax just isn’t significant enough to have the discouraging effects that they proponents claim to want.
Which makes the real point of this gambit clear. It’s about revenue. It’s not about a concern for people’s health. And, why is it any of Rep. Gabel’s business what people want to drink any way? It’s a clear example of politicians feigning concern for your well-being in order to regulate the minutia of your life. And, finding new and exciting ways to separate you from your hard-earned money, to boot.
It was a terrible idea then. It’s a terrible idea now. And if Preckwinkle pursues it in this year’s budget, it’s nothing more than kicking the can of real, meaningful reform down the road even further for Cook County.
If you haven’t seen it yet, the Illinois Policy Institute has a new documentary film coming out on Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. The trailer:
The kicker: the website for the documentary is www.MichaelMadigan.com. Which begs the question, even if he famously eschews technology, how on earth did Madigan’s team not own that URL?
Capitol Fax‘s Rich Miller is in the film. But he’s claiming that he was “duped” into participating. From Miller’s Crain’s Chicago Business column:
I was duped by a right-wing organization into appearing in what will probably be a propaganda movie. It’s my own fault. The producer claimed that while some people were pointing fingers at House Speaker Michael Madigan, his company was interested in doing a fair and balanced film about “what’s really at the center of it all.”
Two days later, I found out that the forthcoming “documentary” is backed by an arm of the well-funded Illinois Policy Institute, one of Madigan’s fiercest critics and a staunch ally of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. The institute’s top executive is also a close Rauner adviser. I’m not exactly popular with that group, although I have strongly supported several of its small-business initiatives in Chicago. I’m not expecting to come out of the editing room looking too well.
Such is life.
I’m curious if Miller really thinks that the film will slice and dice what he said to make him look bad, ala the modus operandi of The Daily Show. Anyway, I can’t wait to see what he had to say if he’s openly fretting that he won’t “come out of the editing room looking too well.”
As for this controversy… look, I wasn’t there. But I’ll say this much: there’s a lot of pre-judging of a film that no one has seen yet going on here. It’s hardly uncommon for documentaries to have a distinct point of view. Take a look at some of the recent Oscar winners for Best Documentary:
- 2014: Citizenfour, which is a very sympathetic look at NSA whistleblower/leaker Edward Snowden.
- 2010: Inside Job, which contends that the 2008 financial meltdown was, well, an inside job perpetrated by the corrupt financial services industry.
- 2006: An Inconvenient Truth, a very one-sided and widely disputed take on global warming/climate change featuring Al Gore.
- 2002: Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore’s anti-gun take on the Columbine school shooting.
And those are just some of the winners. Nominees with distinct points of view have included films like Super Size Me, Jesus Camp, Sicko, Food Inc., Gasland, and plenty of others that were never nominated. If “propaganda” is now being defined as a film having a point of view, then you’d have to say all of these films are propaganda. And it’s pretty hard to judge the Madigan film, since it hasn’t been released yet. Let’s cross that critical bridge when we come to it.
But something caught my attention in the comments on the first Capitol Fax post about this story. Here’s a supposedly anonymous comment:
And Miller’s response:
Sounds awful threatening. And so much for anonymous comments being anonymous, I guess.