1969: City Colleges Strike
In August 1969, the CCCTU leadership was at an AFT convention in New Orleans when it received the news that would ultimately culminate in a two-day strike. The administration had suddenly announced that it was about to involuntarily transfer Mike Kaufman, chair of the Social Science Department at Hogan College, and was planning similar action against Bernie McArdle, chair of Bogan’s English Department. These transfers were being carried out “for the good of the school.” The administration added that since it was acting in the school’s “best interest,” its action couldn’t be challenged in arbitration.
The union officers cut short their stay in New Orleans and returned immediately. The House of Representatives met on Saturday, August 23, and passed a resolution calling for a strike vote. On September 10, the CCC faculty voted to strike by a 3 to 2 margin, the smallest mandate to strike in our union’s history.
Olsen, as now, the contract had a “no strike” pledge. Ben Jaques, a speech instructor at Daley (then Logan) recalls the mood of many of the faculty: “they were gutting our contract with those transfers. In effect there was no contract, so there was no ‘no strike’ pledge.”
Vice-president Otto Benca tried to discuss the matter with Chancellor Shabat. Shabat walked out of the meeting after 15 seconds. On September 2, Benca appeared at a board meeting and asked to be recognized. He was ignored. The board passed the chancellor’s recommendation to transfer Kaufman and McArdle and immediately adjourned as Benca vainly tried to be recognized.
No reasons were given for the transfers. Bogan President Steve Nicholson released a statement to the press, which read, in part,
“I must point out that some time ago the two major departments withdrew from the Faculty Council that represents faculty interests on the Bogan Campus. Because of this lack of participation, the educational process has been hampered. Administrators who have preceded me at Bogan have spoken repeatedly about prolonged frustrations they experienced in efforts to coordinate and develop an organization that functions in the best interest of the college. It is only after excruciating reappraisal of the situation that the conclusion was reached that faculty changes will be needed.”
According to Norm Swenson, the board not only insisted it could transfer faculty at will, but that the issue was not arbitrable under the doctrine of non-delegability.
On the second day of the strike, the board went to court for an injunction. Its strategy backfired, however, when the judge ruled that, yes, the faculty would have to return to the classroom, but the board would have to submit to expedited and binding arbitration. Since we got what we were striking for, we returned to work. Hearings were held immediately, and by November 1969, both Kaufman and McArdle were back at Bogan by order of arbitrator Peter Seitz. According to grievance chair Ralph Vesecky, the arbitrator established an important precedent when he ruled that teachers were entitled to “substantive” as well as “procedural” rights. In other words, not only did the board have to give us due process, it had to back up any action with reasons.
Writing in the Union Voice shortly after the victory, Vesecky said, “Can we possibly enter into an era of mutual respect as human beings? Can we speak in terms of human rights for teachers? Can the administration piously recommend due process rights for teachers under the grievance procedure and then penalize teachers who dare use it?”
Between Jan. 1, 1968, and Jan. 1, 1970, Chancellor Shabat’s salary increased from $32.500 to $40,000, an increase of 22 percent.
1971: Thornton College Faculty Joins Local 1600
The faculty at Thornton College (later renamed South Suburban College) voted for representation by Local 1600 in 1971. In a bitterly contested election, the union defeated an affiliate of the National Education Association. Faculty leaders Dennis Dryzga, Bailey Magruder, Doug Tweeten, Katherine and Paul Wessel, Jim Moody, Charles Pennington and union President Norman Swenson led the drive for representation.
The Thornton faculty struck three times to win contracts: September 1975, September 1984 and October 1986.
In 1975, the faculty walked the picket lines for 11 days before the board moved off of its original economic offer, a salary freeze. The new agreement also added a longevity step to the salary schedule and granted paid dental insurance.
In 1984, the faculty went out on strike for three days and won a 14.8 percent salary increase over two years, fair share, and the union’s right to appoint faculty to college committees.
In a classic example of union solidarity, the faculty struck for six weeks in 1986 to protect the contract. Despite board threats to replace faculty with scabs, cancel health insurance, take reprisals and reduce benefits, the faculty stayed on the picket line. Finally, the union negotiating team led by Jim Flynn and assisted by Local 1600 President Norman Swenson agreed to arbitrate the unresolved contract issues.
Since the 1986 strike, the Union has continued to fight for fair raises and strong contracts that benefit all the members.
1971: City Colleges Strike
The third strike lasted five weeks and created a bitterness between the union and the board that can still be sensed today. Ask any union members who endured long hours on the picket line in near or sub-zero weather, who had the board cancel their paid-up health insurance, who received letters from the chancellor threatening them with dismissal unless they betrayed their union and returned to empty classrooms. Ask the teachers at Malcolm X who were physically attacked by that school’s goon squad; ask them how their attitude toward the administration is colored by the events of January and February 1971.
The board had hired an out-of-town lawyer, Ed Lev, as its chief negotiator. The union and the board had agreed to meet three times a week. After nine weeks, Ed Lev had canceled half of the sessions. After three months of fruitless negotiations, the two teams had only agreed to 12 insignificant items.
The problem was the same as in the ’66 strike, and the ones in ’73, ’75 and ’78: the board’s refusal to concede the fact that a legitimate bargaining, relationship existed between the union and the board. According to our chief negotiator, Norm Swenson, this resulted in a hunker-down mentality, an us- versus-them adversary stance, in which the board’s position always was, “we go back to square one; you are going to have to win again everything you have won in the past.”
As usual, the union had prepared an extensive list of proposals for negotiations. As usual, the board had only the vaguest proposals. They were significant, however, since they went to the heart of the contract. They sought to dilute the 12- 13 hour teaching load by not counting laboratory hours one for one; they wanted to remove department chairs from the bargaining unit; the class size limits would be drastically increased; the right of the union officers to unpaid leave during their term in office would be subject to revocation at any time; the grievance procedure would be watered down so much it would be almost meaningless. And money for raises? Out of the question, said lawyer Lev.
Professor Dick Lerner of Truman College (then Amundsen- Mayfair) was on the negotiating team: “I recall talking to Oscar (Shabat) at some school function just as negotiations were getting underway. He said to me, ‘I know I gave the store away in the first contract. Now I’m going to get it back.’ That’s the way he thought.” Other members of the negotiating team have similar memories.
And it was exactly that line of thinking that led to the 22- day strike of 1971. When it became apparent that no settlement would be reached in time, the union asked that the then current contract be extended until a new one could be negotiated. No way, said the chancellor. Moreover, the board adopted its version of the contract, imposing it on the faculty as of Jan. 1, 1971. “Now, if we returned to work after January 1, we would be working under the board’s terms,” recalled Norm. “Clearly, we would then be at its mercy.
“Given the obstinate stance of the board’s negotiating team and the unilateral imposition of the board’s version of a contract, the leadership felt it had no choice but to recommend a strike.” The membership agreed, and on January 3, 95 percent of the faculty of the City Colleges didn’t report for work.
The third strike ended on Thursday, February 11. While few expected a five-week strike, many did expect that it would not be another one or two day pushover because of the board’s refusal to negotiate in good faith and Chancellor Shabat’s oft- staled vow that after having given the store away he was now going to get it back. Nobody, however, expected the board to pull one of the most vicious stunts in the history of modern labor negotiations.
Shortly after the strike began, Tammy Yacker of Daley’s (then Bogan) English department underwent a minor medical procedure. The surgery didn’t bother her nearly as much as the news that the City Colleges had canceled the faculty’s insurance in retaliation for the strike.
“You can imagine how concerned and upset I was,” she said. “We got this letter from Shabat that suddenly we didn’t have insurance. I didn’t know what to do.”
Monthly payments to the insurance carrier are for more than a month’s premium in order to build up a reserve for the summer months. There was at least a month’s worth of funds in the account when the board ordered the insurance carrier to cancel the insurance.
Public reaction was furious. Len O’Connor, a crusty Channel 9 commentator, blasted Shabat and the board on three different occasions. Walter Jacobson also let the administration know what he thought of their tactics. “This was the only time the media was on our side,” said Tammy.
Noel Johnson remembers a representative of the Chicago Federation of Labor angrily dressing down the board. “Never,” she recalls him saying, “not even when U.S. Steel was on strike for five months, has management ever done anything like this. U.S. Steel actually paid the workers’ premiums so they and their families would be covered.”
Shabat replied, “this is a battle, and you fight a battle the best way you can.”
For the first time, violence became a fact of life at some schools. Tom Steiner recalls going over to Malcolm X with several other Daley faculty to bolster its picket lines. “We were peacefully picketing when suddenly a group of young men sauntered by and attacked me. They knocked me down and kicked me. Fortunately I only experienced minor injuries.”
The weather was bitter cold; many of the days saw the temperature go below zero. Mac McCombs says that he got into the habit of wearing long underwear during the ’71 strike.
In the third week of the strike, students from Daley (then Southwest) staged a sit-in at the offices of the chancellor demanding to know why the board had cut off negotiations. The students’ action lasted two days and was without incident.
Part of the problem was the board’s long-time penchant for bringing in hired guns to do their bargaining. This time it was Ed Lev, an East Coast lawyer. When the board finally decided to get serious, it dismissed Mr. Lev, who took a handsome fee with him back to Boston.
The strike ended when the board sought an injunction. The board and the union appeared in front of Judge Nathan Cohen, who persuaded both sides to allow him to mediate the negotiations. The union negotiating team recommended to the membership that we return to work while negotiations proceeded, confident that the judge would be impartial, and, more importantly, that he would force the board to negotiate in good faith. Many faculty felt that by placing ourselves at the mercy of a third party, the contract could be gutted. They believed that only when we were out on the picket lines would the board feel sufficient pressure to get serious. This concern was reflected by the vote to return to work, which was the narrowest margin in our history. Fortunately the contract did remain intact and an excellent raise was negotiated.
1971: Moraine Valley Faculty Win Bargaining Rights
When 60 percent of the Moraine Valley faculty voted to form a union in 1971, they faced a hostile board that opposed unionization and tenure. Faculty members signed one-year contracts that included a 60-day cancellation clause.
The union used political pressure to force the board to agree to hold a bargaining election in 1972. Fighting off the administration’s nasty anti-union campaign, the union won bargaining rights for 120 teachers, coordinators, counselors and librarians by a 60-55 vote.
In the weeks before the election, the administration harassed faculty members by conducting staff meetings denouncing the union, sending out anti-union mailings and requiring eligible voters to meet in private with their immediate supervisors on the evils of unionization. Yet, a majority of the faculty stuck together and won recognition.
The hostility toward the union continued and forced teachers to strike for 17 days in 1974 to win their first contract. After two days of intensive negotiations with a federal mediator, both sides approved a two-year contract with salary increases of 10 percent in 1974 and 8.89 percent in 1975. The new agreement also granted tenure to 70 faculty members.
Activism and solidarity that continues today has kept Moraine Valley Faculty a strong and united chapter.
1972: Morton Faculty join strength of Local 1600
The faculty at Morton Community College joined the CCCTU in 1972. Prior to 1972, the 64 member union was affiliated with the West Suburban Teachers Union, AFT Local 571.
Relations between Morton faculty and the board remained peaceful until 1984. That year a 60-year tradition came to an end when the teachers angrily manned the picket lines and closed the college for the first time in its history. The board forced the strike by offering to spend only $80,000 of its $4.3 million audited budget surplus on salaries and by demanding that faculty pay any future health insurance premium increase.
During the 29-day strike the chapter remained solid as the board threatened to fire the teachers and hire scabs. Because of the hard work of chapter chair Cliff Jensen and other faculty leaders, none of the faculty crossed the picket lines.
Finally, the board agreed to negotiate in good faith and an agreement on a new contract was reached. By a 52-3 vote, Morton faculty approved a new two-year pact that included a 6.2 percent salary increase in the first year and a 6.5 percent increase in the second year.
In the years since that strike, Morton leaders have continued to negotiate strong contracts that support members’ best interests.
1973: City Colleges Strike
Every strike of the CCCTU was forced by the actions of a confrontational chancellor and board. Their method has been simple: stall negotiations until ale current contract runs out. Then announce that since no agreement has been reached, the board has no choice but to impose its own working conditions and salary schedule for the good of the colleges. The union’s alternative, to keep working under the terms of the old contract until a new one is negotiated, would be flatly rejected. Inevitably a strike would ensue.
The 1973 strike was a perfect example of the above tactic. The union presented its contract proposals in March, four months before the contract expired. The board’s chief negotiator, Chancellor Shabat, presented the board’s: the removal of department chairs from the bargaining unit, the right to transfer teachers involuntarily, a total ban on outside employment, elimination of board-paid dependent health insurance, 2 for 1 contact-to-credit hour ratio for all lab courses, and a cut in overtime pay.
Norm Swenson warned the membership that the board was counting on our being strike-weary. He quoted board negotiator Turner Trimble, who said after the ’71 strike, “The arguments you made at the bargaining fable were well-reasoned and well- documented. But what made the difference and led to the settlement was the willingness of the union to stay out on strike.” Norm urged every union member to volunteer for union work should a strike occur.
By June, three months of negotiations achieved agreement on three sentences having to do with professional leave. The board threatened to cancel summer school if an agreement was not reached, this in spite of the fact that the union offered to continue working under the old contract. Union Voice editor Leon Novar wrote,
“Will the board never learn? Doesn’t it realize they can’t destroy us? It is said that extinct dinosaurs of earlier geologic eras had such a poorly developed nervous system that when one received a blow or wound in its lower body, it would lake an appreciable lapse of time before the message was received and apprehended in the brain’s pain center. Regardless of how dinosaur-minded the board is about its relations with the faculty, we think it will very quickly know when it has been struck.”
Doing its best to precipitate a confrontation with the union, the board passed its 1973-74 budget before reaching a settlement. Chancellor Shabat, accusing the union of trying to “grab the whole pie,” noted that there was no money in the budget allocated for faculty salary raises. Swenson countered that there was over $4 million of fat in the budget. “Their attitude is completely autocratic, completely unilateral,” Swenson said in July. “They don’t even make a pretense of negotiating.”
Shabat then announced that since no agreement had been reached, the board would unilaterally decide under what conditions the faculty would work in the fall semester. It refused to continue bargaining under the old contract.
On September 23, a Sunday, the membership voted to strike by a 3 to 1 margin. Monday found the strike nearly a 100 percent success; only 15 faculty members crossed the picket lines.
I loping to draw a sympathetic judge as it did in 1966, the board went to court seeking an injunction. To its dismay, it got Judge Cohen, the same judge who look over negotiations in the 1971 strike. Rather than enjoin the faculty, the judge supervised the negotiations.
Exposed to the light of day, the board’s position quickly crumbled. “Its only goal was to negotiate in bad faith and cause a strike,” said Swenson. “It could hardly do this with the judge looking over its shoulder.”
The strike was over in two days. While talks continued for several months, the bulk of the contract was finished in one day. Not only was the board’s assault on the contract repulsed, but the following gains were made: bullet Salaries were raised approximately 8 percent. bullet A permanent arbitrator was appointed to relieve the backlog of grievances awaiting arbitration. bullet The board agreed to give priority to rehiring several faculty who had been fired at KK and MX. bullet The board stated in writing that the contract would supersede the board rules.
*An improved early retirement package was implemented.
*Improved language on disciplinary hearings was adopted.
*The school calendar was reduced to 36 weeks.
1975: City Colleges Strike
Readers who are new to the City Colleges may think the union was put to the test in the strikes of ’66, ’69, ’71, and ’73. As the saying goes, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Welcome to the strike of ’75.
By July 1975, negotiations had been dragging on for four months with almost nothing to show for it. Seeing that a contract would not be reached before the start of the fall semester, the union offered to continue working under the old contract until a new one was negotiated. The board declined and imposed its own version of a contract upon the faculty: no raise in salary, including the annual increment; increased class size; reduced rates of pay for extra work; reduced released time for department chairs; and elimination of released time for union officers.
Following a membership vote of 945 to 125 to strike, the union went out on August 25. The board immediately went to court for an injunction. It drew a judge who thought teacher strikes were the closest thing to anarchy. He dressed down the entire negotiating team: “How dare you go on strike while the children of Chicago have nowhere to go during the day,” said Judge Sheldon Brown.
“He thought we were grammar school teachers,’ said Norm Swenson. “He really didn’t know what was going on.”
On September 6, Judge Brown fined the union $1,000 for the first ten days of the strike and $5,000 for each day thereafter. On September 9, he sentenced Norm Swenson to five months in Cook County Jail for contempt of court for refusing to order the faculty back to work. He was jailed immediately.
Rather than throw Norm in with the general prison population, Warden Winston Moore put him in a cell by himself in a yet unopened new wing. This prompted Sheriff Richard Elrod to complain publicly that Swenson was brim coddled. Six hundred faculty showed up at a rally at the jail in support of Norm the following day.
With negotiations proceeding slowly, both the board and the union asked Judge Brown to release Norm from jail to negotiate. Brown refused. We appealed to the Illinois Appellate Court which quickly reversed Brown. It allowed Swenson to negotiate during the day, but he had to return to his cell at night. “He was specifically barred from visiting his family,” recalls Ellen Swenson, Norm’s wife.
Chancellor Shabat sent “Dear Colleague” letters to each faculty member: -Please note that the enclosed court order applies not to just the union officials but to each and every union faculty member,- he said. The threat was not worth the postage; not one striker returned.
Norm joined negotiations on September 12, and by September 14 an agreement was reached. The membership voted overwhelmingly to return to class. Norm could not attend the membership meeting–he had to return to jail. He was released on appeal bond on September 16.
During negotiations and the three-week strike, Chancellor Shabat swore that there was no money available for salary Increases. There was. We got our Increment the first year and the increment plus 5 percent the second year. Not only did we fend off the board’s attack on department chairs’ released time, elimination of clam size limits, and reduction in overtime pay, but we achieved the following gains:
*Elimination of five-month contracts. bullet A new salary top of $28,040. For comparison, Chicago public school teachers had a top of $22,040.
*We kept the 18-week semester by working an additional ten days.
*Significant improvements in fringe benefits
1976: Harper Faculty Organize with Local 1600
Because of a breakdown in negotiations with the Harper College board in 1976, the Harper Faculty Senate voted 98-56 to affiliate with Local 1600 “for purposes of negotiations with the Board.” After many difficult negotiating sessions and a court order requiring the board to negotiate in good faith, the employer agreed to sign a memorandum of agreement on June 14, 1976.
It wasn’t until two years later, on September 14, 1978, that the Harper Faculty achieved its first comprehensive contract. The one-year agreement, achieved only after seven months of difficult bargaining, was approved the same afternoon by Harper College Union members 94-57, and by the Harper Board in a unanimous vote.
This agreement was significant in that it was a true contract covering salary, fringe benefits and working conditions. The new contract provided for the establishment of a step-lane salary schedule and for an across-the-board salary increase of 5.2 percent.
Chief Union Negotiator Mike Bartos said that the inclusion in the contract of working conditions provisions was in itself a major achievement. In previous negotiations, the board had adamantly refused to discuss any matters except salary and fringe benefits.
Bartos said, “We are no longer working under a five-page memorandum of agreement. We now have tenure, academic freedom, and work load provisions as well as grievance and layoff procedures. We are,” he declared, “working under a contract.”
In the years since that first comprehensive contract was negotiated, the faculty has worked diligently to protect and enhance working conditions and benefits.
1978: City Colleges Strike
Whenever the board hires an outside law firm to do its negotiating, chances are it is looking for trouble. In 1978, the board retained Seafarth, Shaw, Fairweather and Geraldson to represent it in negotiations with the union. This notorious firm had already distinguished Itself by causing four costly and unnecessary strikes at Prairie State Community College. 11 was also responsible for the 1977 Chicago firefighters strike. President Norm Swenson visited each campus in the spring of 1978 warning them that a long strike was probable.
Norm said that the board was acting malevolently toward the faculty and wanted to provoke a strike in an obvious effort to destroy the union.”
Negotiations went on for live months with virtually no progress. Then, at its July meeting, the board slapped the faculty in the face by passing a 1978-79 budget which gave generous raises to the administrative and clerical staff. Adding instill to injury, it actually voted to continue dental and vision insurance for all board employees except faculty.
It did approve faculty raises of 5 percent, but this was contingent upon our accepting an extra class per semester. This amounted to an increase of 25 percent in the workload. Of course, it also would have meant the dismissal of 25 percent of the faculty.
The board’s “final” offer was considered at a general membership meeting on Sunday, August 17. It consisted of the above mentioned 25 percent increase in workload; the cancellation of our annual increments; an increase in class size to 44 evening, 40 day; drastic reductions in substitute and overtime pay; and the formation of “substitute pools”,- a board euphemism for replacement workers. Their offer was rejected by a l4 to 1 margin.
On August In, the board canceled negotiations. The union appealed to Mayor Bilandic to mediate. He declined, saying that both sides had to request his intervention. On August 31, a strike closed the City Colleges. It was the most successful ever.
The union established an excellent communications network. Through hot lines, press conferences and mailings, the union kept the membership abreast of the latest developments. It proved its worth when the board played its trump card: it threatened to cancel the semester unless we resumed to work under its terms and conditions.”
“I knew it was an empty threat,” said Norm Swenson. “After all, this is the city that works. No mayor could allow the schools to shut down.”
The ranks held steady as the board increased the pressure thorough the media. Norm had prepared the membership for the possibility of the cancellation threat. In a letter to the faculty at the beginning of the strike, he wrote: “At some time during our strike, the board will threaten to cancel the semester in the hope that we will cave in to its demands. Don’t take this threat seriously.”
We didn’t, but Mayor Bilandic did. Fearful that the board would actually martyr the colleges, he called both sides to his office. The board’s outside lawyer was quickly shown the door, and Bilandic served as mediator in two marathon all-night negotiating sessions. On Sunday, September 24, the mayor announced a settlement of a two-year agreement ending the three-week strike: bullet We maintained the 12-hour load. Sabbatical leaves, which had been suspended, were restored.
*SURS contributions would be tax-sheltered.
*The annual increments were retained plus a 5 percent raise in each year of the contract.
*Substitute pay was reduced to 50 percent and summer school to 75 percent of pro rata.
At three o’clock in the morning, with both sides near agreement, one of the union’s negotiating team members urged Norm to go for a little more. The mayor, tired and irritable, asked Norm if he knew the difference between hogs and pigs. Norm said that he didn’t.
“Hogs get slaughtered,” said Bilandic. “Pigs get fed.”
“At that point we knew it was time to quit,.. said Norm.
1979: Triton College Faculty Unionize
On February 13, 1979, the Triton College Faculty Association (TCFA) became the final suburban faculty to affiliate with the CCCTU. In a two-part referendum, the faculty first decided 114-35 to affiliate with a national teachers organization and then chose the AFT over the NEA by a vote of 83-58. The victory for the AFT and for Local 1600 climaxed six years of patient and successful organizational efforts at Triton by union president Norman Swenson, suburban division vice-president Dennis Dryzga, former chapter chair Russell Bruce and former TCFA president John Boyle.
The next confrontation between the faculty and board occurred on September 30, 1985 when 250 Triton faculty struck the college in a dispute over salaries, benefits, class size and a host of noneconomic issues. During six months of fruitless negotiations leading up to the strike, the parties conducted 30 bargaining sessions including five with a federal mediator. After a successful six-day strike, the Triton faculty negotiators produced a two-year contract which included an average salary increase of 16 percent over two years and fair share.
The next fifteen years featured a fierce fight over negotiated gains, and included a near strike in 1997. After the dust had cleared, the faculty had maintained the salary structure, insurance package and retirement package.