Chicago Teachers Go on Strike

Chicago Teachers Go on Strike

The average teacher in Chicago makes $76,000 a year for nine months of work. They were offered 16% salary increase spread over four years. Given the system has a $665 million deficit this year and a bigger one next year, I am wondering why there should be a raise at all.

Nonetheless, the New York Times reports With No Contract Deal by Deadline in Chicago, Teachers Will Strike.

“We do not want a strike,” David J. Vitale, president of the Chicago Board of Education, said late Sunday as he left the negotiations, which he described as extraordinarily difficult and “perhaps the most unbelievable process that I’ve ever been through.”

Union leaders said they had hoped not to walk away from their jobs, but they said they were left with little choice.

“This is a difficult decision and one we hoped we could have avoided,” said Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union.

The political stakes now may be highest for Rahm Emanuel, the Democratic mayor in a city with deep union roots. He took office last year holding up the improvement of public schools as one of his top priorities, but now faces arduous political terrain certain to accompany Chicago’s first public schools strike in 25 years.

Late Sunday, Mr. Emanuel told reporters that school district officials had presented a strong offer to the union, including what some officials described as what would amount to a 16 percent raise for many teachers over four years — and that only two minor issues remained. “This is totally unnecessary, it’s avoidable and our kids do not deserve this,” Mr. Emanuel said, describing the decision as “a strike of choice.”

Strike of Choice

Every strike is a strike of choice. Moreover, given projected budget deficits and with pension plans even deeper in the hole, the 16% raise offer was actually far too generous.

The ideal approach by mayor Rahm Emanuel would look something like this.

  1. Immediately fire all 25,000 teachers, disband the union, and kill defined benefit pension plans
  2. Offer teachers their jobs back with a zero percent pay raise with three days to decide
  3. For each day beyond three, the city would reduce its offer to teachers by $2,000 a day
  4. Offer generous relocation expenses to those willing to come to Chicago to teach
  5. Offer substitute teachers full-time jobs

It is time to break the back of the insidious grip public unions have on the state of Illinois. There is no better place than Chicago to start.

Illinois Policy Center Response

After writing the above, I received this email alert from John Tillman at the Illinois Policy center.

Dear Mike,

Now that Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has announced that CTU will strike Monday morning, it is very clear: Children are not the top priority for teachers who belong to the Chicago Teachers Union. The two things that matter most to these teachers are money and avoiding accountability for poor performance.

Lewis and the CTU waited hours to announce the teacher walkout so they could hold a live press conference at the top of the 10 p.m. news hour. This focus on press impact rather than the impact on children’s and parents’ lives should once and for all tell Chicago Public School negotiators and Mayor Emanuel this: The time is now for the transformative reforms the children and parents need. The Mayor and CPS should pull all offers from the table and reset the negotiations.

The fiscal reality is that Chicago Public Schools are broke. CPS will be draining cash reserves this year just to stay afloat, and will be $1 billion in the red next school year. The 30 percent raise CTU originally asked for is out of the question, and so are other double-digit raises that CTU has demanded. Average teacher pay in Chicago is already at $71,000 without benefits, while the average Chicagoan makes only $30,203 and the unemployment rate in the city is nearly 11 percent.

The reality facing students is much more grim. Four out of 10 children who enter a CPS high school will not graduate. That’s why the focus of these negotiations should be on reforms that empower parents rather than perpetuating a broken system. Monday morning, more than 80,000 kids in Chicago will show up to be taught in charter schools or independent private schools, and those teachers will be showing up to work – unlike the teachers who belong to the CTU. These schools have something in common that is different from those CPS schools that will not operate tomorrow: the CTU is not the monopoly provider of labor to those schools.

At minimum, CPS must put the option of merit pay back on the table. Chicago cannot be a place where bad teachers are protected at the expense of great teachers who deserve to be recognized and rewarded. And Chicago must allow for more educational competition. As Milton Friedman said, “The only solution is to break the monopoly, introduce competition and give the customers alternatives.” By expanding the number of charter schools and establishing opportunity scholarships, we can begin to chip away at the monopoly that the Chicago Teachers Union has over the city’s educational system. We must empower parents to choose what is best for their children, instead of letting Karen Lewis decide when kids can and cannot learn.

John Tillman


About the author: Mike “Mish” Shedlock is a registered investment advisor representative for Sitka Pacific Capital Management. His top-rated global economics blog Mish’s Global Economic Trend Analysis offers insightful commentary every day of the week. He is also a contributing “professor” on Minyanville, a community site focused on economic and financial education. Every Thursday he does a podcast on HoweStreet and on an ad hoc basis he contributes to many other websites, including UnionWatch.

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