To the editors:

The success of school reform in allegedly breaking up school bureaucracy [“School Revolt,” May 26] could also offer an opportunity to break up the highly centralized bureaucracy of the Chicago Teachers Union. In 30 years of teaching and membership in the CTU, the union has rarely made achievements in improving local working conditions. Money demands have achieved higher priority because they are really easier to achieve than improved working conditions. Lower class size and a shorter grievance procedure have traditionally been traded off for money. Contract enforcement via grievances takes two years to get to arbitration.

Now the school reform says that the union may waive parts of the contract to implement local school reform. I have two suggestions to change the law on this point. One is that the vote to make local school changes remove any possibility of a veto by the higher union bureaucracy. Further, the state’s collective bargaining law be amended to allow individual schools to strike over local work rules and working conditions. In other industries local production centers often have the power to strike over local work rules even after the completion of a master contract.

In the most recent union officers’ election I proposed that the local union committee have power to negotiate work rules with the principal, not in conflict with the master union contract. It was rejected on the grounds that a local union committee might “sell out.” My argument was that the local union committee elected by the union staff was more accountable to the membership than the downtown union hierarchy and pressure can be brought to bear more easily on a local union delegate than on the union president who is buffered by “yes men and women” and who often does not even attend grievance hearings to monitor contract enforcement.

However, to make local collective bargaining viable the law has to be amended to protect “whistle blowers” in the union who might criticize a local council. The local council might argue that the “whistle blower” was “disruptive of school reform.” Look at the harassment of the Clemente librarian who anonymously reported to the Reader about rather generalized problems. The fact that she was helped more by the ACLU than the CTU is not a good sign.

It is almost impossible to make CTU leadership accountable in a union election because access to the rank-and-file is a horrendous job, which costs big bucks. A candidate for CTU presidency has to cover a larger geographic area than a Congressional candidate or alderman, with far less money. In addition, the incumbent union leadership has absolute control over the union paper, which has refused to ever print anything remotely critical of the CTU leadership for fear it “will weaken us in the face of the enemy.” It’s the same kind of argument as the “circle-the-wagon” defenders of “bi-partisan Cold War policies.” In addition teachers do not have a democratic bill of rights to promote internal union democracy as have other workers in the Landrum-Griffin bill. Union financing of internal union campaigns such as one free mailing to the membership would help, but it is unlikely short of a court challenge which is not feasible for debt-ridden union opposition forces.

In contrast, union leadership at the local level negotiating local contracts would be far more accessible and accountable than the downtown union officers. In fact, CTU has never had real-live, active teachers even negotiating for them on a master contract. We have only had the major officers, entitled “teachers-on-leave.” In contrast other union locals in Rochester, Dade County, Florida and Cincinnati have had active teachers at the table in addition to the major officers. This was confirmed to me by a survey of AFT locals which I conducted, and in which CTU never answered my questionnaire.

The model that should be used in local school councils is the collective bargaining model with a “win-win” strategy plus the right to strike over unresolved local work rules. Without being tongue-in-cheek, I would suggest that the Quakers should be the ones to educate local councils in the methods of “friendly persuasion” to achieve consensus.

Gerald R. Adler

30 years a CTU member