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.
But that’s not even the half of Ocol’s incredible life story:
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.”