A week after Rahm Emanuel decided to extend his services to his former boss, President Barack Obama, in order to do some fundraising, this was probably the last headline he expected to read. At midnight Monday the Chicago Teachers Union announced that it would begin an indefinite strike, which would only end when their contract dispute with the city of Chicago is settled.
Despite an offer for a 16-percent pay raise in addition to an average annual salary of $71,000 the teachers already receive, the union refuses to budge, embarking on the city’s first teachers’ strike in twenty-five years. The pay raises offered would be mandatory and could not be rescinded for a lack of funds. The raises, insisted upon by a teachers’ union which claims to represent people who have the best interests of children at heart, could bankrupt the already failing school system. Bankrupting the schools where Chicago’s children already receive a below-average education is apparently not enough for the unions paid to represent the city’s teachers. The teachers’ union demands more concessions before agreeing to sign.
Despite being placated on the wage demands, the union demands a degree of job security that is unparalleled in the rest of the economy, especially in its current state. If a teacher’s school closes, their union wants a guaranteed future job elsewhere else in the system. The union seems to be unaware that schools aren’t closed on a whim. They are closed because students are performing so poorly that the district decides that they would be better served elsewhere. Why would the district then move those teachers to another school, where the same students would then be instructed by the same teachers, but in another building? Do teachers really think that their students’ failures are due to the room they’re in or the blackboard they’re using?
Another aspect of job security, the scope of teacher evaluations and the possibility of dismissals based on job performance, is also a sticking point for the Chicago Teachers Union. Apparently being measured on one’s ability to teach is too much to ask of grown adults given the task of teaching the next generation not only math and science, but also responsibility and maturity.
Some of the union’s demands are actually reasonable. The Sun Times reports,
The union also has pushed for improved working conditions, such as smaller class sizes, more libraries, air-conditioned schools, and more social workers and counselors to address the increasing needs of students surrounded by violence — all big-ticket items.
Does the Chicago Teachers Union think that the city is in possession of a money tree? With a $1 billion deficit at the end of the year, how could the union expect that the city could possibly afford guaranteed pay raises, these “big-ticket” items, and paychecks for teachers whose schools have performed so badly? In a choice between the increased wages and the “big-ticket” items, one has to wonder what would be a greater priority for the union.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has refused to capitulate to these demands, stating “This is totally unnecessary. It’s avoidable and our kids don’t deserve this. … This is a strike of choice.” All strikes are strikes of choice, but what Emanuel seems to be implying is that the Chicago Teachers Union has no business striking based on their stated demands nor on the small differences of position between the city and the union — on almost every issue the two parties have worked to meet more or less in the middle.
In a surprising turn of events, Emanuel received support from the Romney campaign. The surprise is not that Romney has sided with the children of Chicago over their teachers’ union; he issued a statement today which read, “Teachers unions have too often made plain that their interests conflict with those of our children, and today we are seeing one of the clearest examples yet.” What is surprising is the total lack of support the Obama administration has offered to their fundraising surrogate and former coworker. Today White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters, “We hope that both sides are able to come together to settle this quickly in the best interests of Chicago’s students. Beyond that, I haven’t got a specific reaction from the president.”
In the choice between students and greed, teachers’ unions have chosen greed. In the choice between unions and students, President Obama is yet again voting present.