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 Rampant Union Greed in Chicago

The Windy City’s teachers union is on the verge of yet another strike. 

In 2012, Troy Senik wrote “The Worst Union in America,” a title he bestowed on the California Teachers Association. As a former member and longtime critic of that union, I certainly had no quibble with his selection. But now, CTA is facing serious competition from the Chicago Teachers Union.

As reported in last week’s post, CTU, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, is gearing up for a strike. It would be the union’s second in four years, despite the fact that the median salary for a teacher in Chicago is $78,169. When you add another $27,564 for various benefits, the total compensation for a teacher – good, bad or middling – becomes almost $106K per annum. (Please keep in mind teachers work 180 days a year, while employees in other professions typically work for 240 to 250 days.) In retirement, the average Chicago teacher receives a hefty $50,000 a year.

The main sticking point for the union and the Chicago Public School system (CPS) is the so-called pension pick-up. Teachers there (and elsewhere) have what’s called a “defined benefit plan,” whereby in retirement – come hell, high water or recession – a teacher’s pension is not affected. In most places, teachers and the school district share the contributions equally, but not in Chicago and some other municipalities in Illinois. Teachers there are supposed to chip in 9 percent of their salary to fund their own pension. But as things stand now, teachers contribute just 2 percent, with the school district (read: taxpayer) picking up the remaining seven. The city, which is in dire fiscal straits, is asking teachers to pay the full 9 percent. But lest the poor teachers need to reach for the smelling salts because they are being asked to kick in more for their own retirement years, Chicago is offering them an 8.7 percent salary increase over four years to help offset the teachers’ pension payment.

So, as the union demands more and more money, the schools end up with less and less. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, CPS still needs to come up with at least $300 million to balance its fiscal 2017 budget. “The school system still faces huge, $700 million-ish teachers pension payments this year and annually into the future. It still has too much real estate to serve its dwindling number of students. And its credit is maxing out.” As a result, Moody’s has just downgraded CPS further into junk status.

As if the union’s insistence on yet more money is not deplorable enough, there is a new addition to their basket. When CTU held its strike vote last week, it didn’t do it the traditional way – by secret ballot. Nope, the union had its teachers authorize a strike via “petitions” circulated at schools, meaning that everyone knew how everyone else voted. Think there may have been an intimidation factor at work here? And why on earth would they need to resort to such strong-arm tactics? The teachers voted by a 7 to 1 margin to strike in 2012 – when voting was done in private. As it turns out, the margin this year was 86 percent affirmative, just about what it was in 2012.

If the method of voting sounds dictatorial and totalitarian, it fits right in with the union’s leadership. CTU president Karen Lewis, who revels in her inflammatory style, makes Donald Trump look downright demure. Just a few of her egregious comments:

  • At the City Club of Chicago in 2013, she blamed the city’s education woes on rich white people. “When will we address the fact that rich, white people think they know what’s in the best interest of children of African Americans and Latinos—no matter what the parent’s income or education level.”
  • After the tragic Sandy Hook school shootings, Lewis blamed Teach for America, the organization that successfully enlists high-achieving college graduates to teach at hard to staff schools. Referring to TFA vice-president David Rosenberg, Lewis said “… policies his colleagues support kill and disenfranchise children from schools across this nation.”
  • Earlier this year, Lewis compared the Illinois governor to ISIS: “Rauner is the new ISIS recruit. Yes, I said it, and I’ll say it again. Bruce Rauner is a liar. And, you know, I’ve been reading in the news lately all about these ISIS recruits popping up all over the place — has Homeland Security checked this man out yet? Because the things he’s doing look like acts of terror on poor and working-class people.”
  • Then there is the typical union boss hypocrisy: She rails against corporate “fat cats,” all the while pulling in over $200,000 a year, owning three homes, including one in Hawaii. (Second-in-command at CTU, Comrade Jesse Sharkey, a leading member of the revolutionary International Socialist Organization, makes well over $100,000 in total compensation.)

The teachers could strike as soon as October 11th. It’s up to Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Rauner to stand up to the CTU leadership and their outrageous demands and put a halt to the mugging. Enough taxpayer money has been extorted by the union without the mayor and governor kicking in another penny. And the union can’t claim that its teachers are doing a bang-up job: Just 30 percent of 4th grade CPS students are proficient in math and by 8th grade that number sinks to 25 percent. In reading, 27 percent of 4th graders are proficient as are 24 percent of 8th graders. Taxpayers should not be expected to sink any more of their money into an ineffective school system.

As of now, the hard working people of Chicago – already the highest taxed in Illinois – are getting overpaid teachers, failing kids and a union that wears its greed proudly on its sleeve. CTA, you have some serious competition.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

When Teachers Unions Attack

Coca Cola, Teach For America, Walmart and banks are the latest targets of Big Labor.

Attempting to get over the millions of dollars they spent backing losers in the November election, America’s teachers unions are on a mission to find new bogeymen. First victim: Coca Cola. Yup, the American Federation of Teachers has adopted a resolution which claims that “three general secretaries of the union representing Coca-Cola workers in Guatemala City and five workers were killed, and four more workers were kidnapped.” (To read the rest of the pathetic guilt-by-association allegations, go here.) But the real reason the union is pillorying our national soft drink is because “Coca-Cola circumvents its own code of conduct by hiring workers through subcontracting rather than hiring permanent employees.”

There it is. AFT’s real gripe is that Coke is hiring non-union workers. (Rumors that the union went after Coke because it thought that the company was owned by those two evil brothers from Kansas are unfounded.)

As The Daily Caller’s Eric Owens points out,” The anti-Coke gambit is the latest in a bizarro month even by the standards of America’s teachers unions.”

While AFT is busy defaming Coke, the National Education Association has been focusing on student debt, and recently kicked off a “Degrees Not Debt Week of Action.” Of course, what the union doesn’t mention is that in order to get potential teachers and other college grads off the hook, the beleaguered taxpayers would have to assume the debt. The union also neglects to acknowledge that organized labor has played an important role in the escalating costs of getting a college degree. Referring to the University of California, Jon Coupal points out that the driving force behind tuition hikes is the growing unfunded liability of pension funds and “other items of questionable compensation for unionized faculty.” Coupal quotes Wall Street Journals Allysia Finley,

UCs this year needed to spend an additional $73 million on pensions, $30 million on faculty bonuses, $24 million on health benefits and $16 million on collectively bargained pay increases. The regents project that they will require $250 million more next year to finance increased compensation and benefit costs.

Ms. Napolitano [President of the University of California] says that the UCs have cut their budgets to the bone, yet her own office includes nearly 2,000 employees—a quarter of whom make six-figure salaries. An associate vice president of federal government relations earns $273,375 a year, plus $55,857 in retirement and health benefits, according to the state controller’s office.  Thirty professors at UC Santa Cruz rake in more than $200,000 in pay, and most faculty can retire at 60 and receive a pension equal to 75% of their final salary. More than 2,100 retirees in the university retirement system collected six-figure pensions in 2011.

At the same time the teachers unions are trying to shaft the taxpayer, they pretend to really, really care about the little guy. In a press release, AFT accuses Wall Street of “costing schools, municipalities billions.” The union’s hellfire-and-brimstone document informs us that banks took advantage of poor lil’ ol’ educators by charging interest on money they never should have had to borrow in the first place. (Okay, I added that last part.) Never one to mince words, Chicago Teacher Union president (and member in good standing of the International Socialist Organization) Jesse Sharkey proclaimed, “The banks owe us a rebate of hundreds of millions of dollars, which we should invest in 50 sustainable community schools with robust wraparound services, restorative justice programs, low class sizes and sufficient staffing levels.”

Despite Mr. Sharkey’s attempts to wage class warfare, there is absolutely no evidence that the banks are guilty of anything but doing legal business. But why let the truth get in the way of a good Marxist narrative?

And then there is the AFT’s embrace of “United Students Against Sweatshops.” (Yes, Virginia, there really is such a loopy organization, and its biggest funder is AFT. USAS deserves a post of its own which I will get to in the near future.)  With chapters all over the country, the apparent raison d’être of the USAS Harvard franchise is to drive Teach For America into the sea. Why? Because TFA, which places idealistic young teachers in tough-to-staff schools, takes funding from the Walton Foundation, which of course is the philanthropic arm of Walmart, which, according to USAS, is trying to privatize public education, which it shouldn’t do because it will cost the teachers unions countless members, which will destroy their bottom line… or something like that.

The common thread running through the latest teachers union gambits is a strong animosity toward the American way of doing business, especially when it interferes with their hegemony. They are anti-capitalist – never mind that capitalism has been the driving force in cutting world poverty in half over the last 20 years – and pro-socialism, which strives for equality, even though people who live under such a system are equally miserable. But the unions, which took a real thumping on Election Day, may be overplaying their hand. It seems that the citizenry has figured out that the teachers unions provide no good solutions. Indeed, they’re an integral part of many of the educational and fiscal problems we face today.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.