Last week, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) went on strike. The union leaders are upset with Chicago Public Schools (CPS), which is facing a $600 million deficit, because they were not given the raise they wanted and because money was being funneled into charter schools. Issues such as the evaluation of teachers are also on the table. With these grievances in mind, some 29,000 teachers have refused to do their job by teaching the children of Chicago.
The union has tried to play this off as a struggle to improve the quality of schools and to make it fairer for teachers in Chicago, but it is apparent that money is the driving force behind the strike. CPS offered the union a meager 2 percent pay increase for 2013 due to its financial situation; but instead of being reasonable, the teachers went on strike and demanded a 30 percent compounded rise over the next two years. It’s also worth mentioning that the median salary for Chicago public school teachers is $76,450, well above the $53,976 salary the average private sector employee in Chicago earns. Privately ran charter schools, which drain students and funding from public schools, are another hot issue. The charter schools are non-union, which hurts the unions directly by denying them the ability to extract dues from the teachers that work at them, but also by limiting the amount of job openings for public school workers since the lower-paid workers at the charter schools provide the city with an incentive to close more public schools. This strike has been initiated out of greed.
The Obama administration’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan would like people to believe that “both sides” are concerned with “[the] kids’ best interests.” But, based on the teachers’ actions, the 350,000 children who are unable to go to school are not as important as the union’s prized pay raise. For over a week now, the CTU strike has prevent kids in Chicago from obtaining an education. Chicago already has one of the shortest school days in the nation, at 5.75 hours. Mayor Rahm Emmanuel wants to change that to 7.5 hours, but apparently that just upset the union members. Besides being behind educationally due to the strike, some children have also had nowhere to stay during the school day, which, in a city full of trouble and violence, places an undue burden on some parents to find a place for them to go. Furthermore, some of the poorer parents may rely on free school lunches, which children cannot receive now that a strike has shut down their schools. Fortunately, Emmanuel is trying to hold the CTU accountable for its actions.
The Mayor has asked for an injunction to put an end to the strike. In the suit, the city contends that the strike is “a clear and present danger to public health and safety,” as it is barring students from receiving the benefits of a public education, namely an adequate education, nutritious meals, and a safe environment. The city is also asserting that the CTU broke the law by striking over non-economic issues, such as teacher evaluations and the ability to recall teachers who have been laid off, even though the pay raise issue is economic. This is a good start to fixing the situation in Chicago, but it isn’t a solution to the systemic problem that unions pose.
A more preventive solution is required. It needs to target the unions and weaken them. Shutting down more public schools and opening more charter schools is one way to do that. However, since there is currently no active collective bargaining agreement, Emmanuel could black list all union strikers who refuse to leave the union once and for all and go back to work as non-union workers. Under the collective bargaining agreement between the CPS and CTU, teachers or board members who participate in work stoppages are immune from retribution (Section 1-4 and 44-27). However, as of June 30, 2012, those rules no longer apply. Offer the teachers their jobs back, but with the requirement that they abandon the strike and the union.
Unions need to be put in their place. They need to be cut down to the point that they can no longer put undue hardships on the citizens of the cities they operate in. Maybe Governor Pat Quinn should take after Governor Scott Walker and strip the unions of all of their bargaining rights.