The president of Chicago Teachers Union violated the rights of one of his own staffers just before taking over the helm of the labor giant, according to a ruling from the National Labor Relations Board.
The NLRB, the top federal labor arbiter of workplace disputes and union elections, said in an unanimous ruling that the union failed to live up to its own ideals. The board found CTU guilty of "threatening employees because they engaged in union and protected concerted activities" stemming from an incident involving then-vice president Jesse Sharkey, who has since become the president of the 25,000-member union. CTU did not dispute the allegations that Sharkey threatened a member of the staffers union and selectively targeted him for coercion because he had previously filed unfair labor practice charges against the union.
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"Jesse Sharkey, in an email, threatened to retain legal counsel and pursue unfair labor practice charges against [the staffers union] because employees engaged in union and protected concerted activities," the three board member panel said. "The Respondent filed no response. The allegations in the motion are therefore undisputed."
CTU did not respond to requests for comment about the ruling and the incident.
Veteran teacher and union field representative John Kugler filed the original unfair labor practice complaint against CTU in October 2017 and additional charges in January 2018 after he was threatened for doing union work on company time. Kugler told the Washington Free Beacon working for a labor organization creates the same employee-management disputes that unions routinely file against private or public sector employers.
"At certain points in time when a conversation gets serious, [supervisors] need to understand that people have certain rights," the father of four said in a phone interview. "We want the same protections as we do in our days jobs."
Kugler said staffers always attempt to address conflicts with labor officials in-house and that he only turned to the NLRB after he felt those complaints fell on deaf ears. One obstacle union staffers face is that their supervisors react negatively to workplace complaints because they are too focused on fighting for workers rights outside the office.
"When you're working in an organization where we all have the same belief system … we all fight for the same thing, so when we have a disagreement we forget that it's the same as any other workplace," Kugler said. "Yes, I'm part of a movement and a bigger thing, but I'm also an individual with rights, and if I feel they're being violated then I'm going to fight to see them respected."
Kugler did not see the incident with Sharkey, who was chosen as the union's new president in September, as part of a wider pattern of anti-worker behavior, describing it as "a one-off." Chicago has been the site of a number of labor-management stand-offs in recent years, including the 2012 city-wide strike. Ballooning deficits, particularly in the pension system, have led to cuts and intensified labor disputes in recent years. Kugler said employees at the unions have felt similar pain, pointing to the decision by staffers to take pay cuts ranging from 3 to 5 percent to "stave off layoffs."
"We're dealing with multiple fights on multiple fronts and sometimes the fighting outside becomes fighting inside" union headquarters, he said.
The labor board has ordered CTU to post notices around its offices to serve as a reminder to management.
"WE WILL NOT selectively and disparately enforce our work rule prohibiting you from conducting union business during work time by applying it only against employees who filed unfair labor practice charges against us," the sign will say. "WE WILL NOT in any like or related manner interfere with, restrain, or coerce you in the exercise of the rights listed above."
The union has 14 days to comply with the Dec. 12 order.