SB-7 Clears the Way for New Assault on Chicago's Teachers

SB7, which was just signed into law this week by Illinois Gov. Quinn severely weakens the power of the state's teachers and their unions to bargain collectively.
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"This is not a bill to attack the teachers." -- State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood

Whenever a bill's sponsor has to introduce it in this way, you can only assume that's exactly what it is.

SB7, which was just signed into law this week by Illinois Gov. Quinn severely weakens the power of the state's teachers and their unions to bargain collectively. What makes SB7 different from legislation pushed by Tea Party govs and passed in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan, is that the Illinois bill, now law, isn't nearly as draconian. Public employees unions haven't been outlawed completely, although their right to strike has been essentially taken away and unlike Michigan's law, cities in Illinois still have their sovereignty.

Perhaps a more important difference is that the bill was passed with support from the state's three largest teachers unions, pretty much nullifying any opposition from the rank-and-file, wavering politicians, community activists or from other unions. Their argument went something like this: "We accepted a spanking in order to avoid a real beat-down."

That narrative and accompanying new era of "collaboration" is being hailed by corporate reformers and by some union leaders as a model for the rest of the nation and as an alternative to the "chaos" and open class warfare in in Madison, Wisconsin. We shall see whether or not that's true or whether it just makes that warfare more one-sided.

One thing you can count on though, is that the current assault on public schools, teachers and other public employees will continue as the state's corporate interests use pocket politicians to move against the most vulnerable and strengthen their power position vis-a-vis organized labor. For IL teachers, it will still be possible, though more difficult to resist the next attempt at a pension grab coming up in the fall veto session.

Chicago teachers will also have to face a new push by corporate reformers and by the mayor for fewer teachers teaching larger classes, with less job protection, working longer hours and more days for less pay, as contract negotiations approach. The new law makes teacher evaluations and layoffs contingent on student achievement based even more narrowly on standardized test scores and makes it easier to dismiss veteran teachers without due process.

With Mayor Rahm Emanuel now running the city's schools, we can expect to see a continuation of the disastrous Renaissance 2010 strategy of closing neighborhood schools and replacing them with privately-managed charter schools and experienced union teachers with lower-paid, non-union temps. Even new schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard recognizes Ren10's "collateral damage" as being the "creation of two different [and unequal] school systems."

If there's to be a push-back from the CTU on any of this (including the take-away of the 4 percent pay raise won in the last contract negotiations), they will have to make it with one hand tied behind their back. SB7, a bill that they themselves supported, swings the door wide open for the next wave of assaults on teachers and public schools.

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