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Chicago school strike: Is the union too powerful?
By linton White
IN A CRUEL TWIST, a Chicago parent called Mayor Rahm Emmanuel a "Democrat in name only." That must have stung, as must have the Emmanuel comparisons to Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker. And all because the Windy City's mayor, President Obama's former White House chief of staff, ran afoul of the Chicago Teachers Union.
Chicago teachers decided to return to work Wednesday after an eight-day strike, even though their new contract has not been approved. Sticking points have been money and Mr. Emmanuel's plans for educational reform.
Mr. Emmanuel, like most Democrats a congenital union supporter, entered the negotiations caught between a rock and a hard place. Failing schools and a projected $1 billion school-district deficit for next year compelled changes. In particular, he wanted the power to close an unlimited number of underperforming public schools, reopening them with new staff or converting them to charter schools--which would not be required to hire unionized teachers.
The CTU, which represents 29,000 teachers and support staff, originally pressed for a 17.6 percent pay raise over four years, although the average teacher's pay in Chicago is one of the profession's highest nationally: $76,000 for 10 months of work. (For comparison, the average salary in Chicago overall is $37,658 per year.)
Mr. Emmanuel wanted a new teacher-evaluation system, 35 percent of which would be based on student performance on standardized tests. And he wanted those evaluations to be factored into layoffs rather than basing dismissals solely on seniority.
The smack-down in Chicago is revealing. The blood in Mr. Emmanuel's veins runs true blue, yet, faced with an intractable budget, pricey teachers, and a nearly 40 percent dropout rate in city schools, the ardent Democrat has been forced to look for different answers than those the union demands. He's not the only Democrat to lock horns with organized pedagogy. Former New York City schools chief Joel Klein, who had lawyered in the Clinton White House, called the priorities of his city's teacher unions "disastrous for the kids in our schools."
Chicago demonstrates the policy folly of allowing public-sector unions to collectively bargain, much less strike. No government should permit extortion of the public treasury for parochial gain. For now, Chicago's 350,000 students are back in class. Let's hope their teachers don't drop out again.