Examiner | Both sides dig in for Chicago teachers strike
Chicago. When the rules were changed to make it harder for Chicago teachers to strike, administration officials quietly bragged that the union would never garner the necessary votes to authorize a walk-out. Then, officials arbitrarily eliminated contractual raises the teachers were supposed to get. Then they lengthened the school day and instituted new evaluations. In response, the teachers union voted 98 percent to authorize a strike. Will they walk out? We’ll find out next week.
Teachers union steps up pressure
On Labor Day, a sea of red blanketed downtown Chicago as teachers and other sympathetic unions marched on City Hall in a show of unity. Taking their fight a step further, yesterday the union filed charges against Chicago’s schools citing ‘unlawfully imposing changes in working conditions’. As parents hope a strike is diverted, the two sides appear to be preparing for a walk-out next week.
In a show of unity and strength, the union released a list of 37 local and international organizations who, they explain, ‘have written letters of solidarity or contributed to our Solidarity Fund over the past few weeks’. As the CTU website states, ‘People across the country and the world are looking at our confrontation with the Chicago Board of Education as a key fight against the specious attacks on our public schools and the teachers and paraprofessionals who make them work.’
The union rejected a proposed 2% pay raise each year for the next four years. It also opposes a longer school day without additional compensation, pay for performance, testing of teachers, and the overall anti-teacher atmosphere they say was created by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s zeal to reign in the city’s unions and replace them with outside corporations, in other words, charter schools and privatization.
Chicago Sun Times comes out against teachers union
Attempting to present both sides of the argument as the independent-leaning Sun Times often does, the paper’s editors came out publically today against the teacher’s union in an editorial titled, ‘If Chicago teachers strike now, it’s the union’s bad call’.
As the paper explains, ‘The union has made these talks a referendum on Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his schools reform agenda. Emanuel may have tried to do too much at once – a recipe for poor outcomes in a district that often fails to pull off the best of ideas under the best of circumstances. But that doesn’t justify saying no to it all, as the union has done.’
Providing a compromise solution of its own, Sun Times editors suggest, ‘The answer to the mayor’s over-reaching isn’t a strike. The answer is hammering out compromises at the bargaining table.’ As a compromise on pay raises, the paper suggests that instead of 2% raises for the next four years, both sides should agree on 3%, bringing the total raise from 8% to 12%.
Opposing the teachers union
Critics of the various teachers unions in Chicago and Illinois have grown in number over the past few years with pension scandals and the sudden availability of teachers’ compensation packages and pension benefits.
A typical impartial Chicago taxpayer might suggest that it’s difficult to feel sorry for the teachers unions when they’re awarding million dollar annual payments to people who literally worked only one day on the job. Granted, that’s a rare example but a real one. The list of teachers who worked only one day in their life as teachers and now receive over $100k per year in their taxpayer-funded teacher pension is yet another reminder that the current teacher compensation system is broken.
One regular critic of the Chicago Teachers Union is the group Taxpayers United of America. They often release statistics such as – 6,700 retired teachers are currently receiving lifetime annual pension payments of over $100,000. According to the book, ‘Illinois Pension Scam’, in eight years, that number will surpass 25,000.
Teachers strike would be ‘just plain stupid’
That was the reaction TUA President Jim Tobin had in a statement released yesterday. “The average Chicago teacher makes $76,000 a year, according to Crain’s Chicago Business,” said Tobin, “and, in addition, Chicago picks up a 7% pension contribution for the teachers, which no other city does. The average Illinois statewide teacher salary is $63,000.”
“Depending on the source, they are demanding a 29% pay increase over 2 years (Chicago Sun-Times) or a 25% pay increase over 2 years (Crain’s), despite the fact that the CPS system is projected to have a $665 million budget deficit for the fiscal year ending next June 30,” Tobin added, “For fiscal year 2014, the deficit will soar to $1 billion.”
The release by Taxpayers United of America included a downloadable database of the top 100 highest-paid teachers in the Chicago Public School system. They highest, they found, was a high school chemistry teacher who currently earns $183,777 per year.
TUA’s Tobin concluded his announcement saying, “Between 2007 and 2012, according to Crain’s, while many Chicagoans endured pay cuts and layoffs, teachers enjoyed pay increases from 19 to 46 percent. The Chicago Teachers Union’s demand for a huge salary increase of up to 29% while threatening a strike if these demands are not met, is outrageous, unrealistic and just plain stupid.”