Since last Thursday, members of Lake County Federation of Teachers Local 504, an affiliate of Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers (AFT), have shut down schools in Waukegan, Illinois in an ongoing strike. The district has roughly 17,000 students, for whom parents must now make childcare arrangements.
The teachers union is demanding across-the-board raises of 9 percent in the first year and 7 percent in the two subsequent years. School district officials have offered smaller raises. Either way, median household income in Illinois has declined in the past six years by about $4,000—it’s unlikely that taxpayers who would foot the bill for the union’s proposed massive hike will be experiencing similar gains.
This illustrates a fundamental problem with public-sector unionism (including public-school teacher unionism). In the private sector, unions and employers have a naturally adversarial relationship (for good or ill). The employer has no obligation to the union other than good-faith bargaining, and the union has no obligation to the employer other than not driving the company into bankruptcy, if the union is smart (and they often aren’t).
But public sector unions like the LCFT can essentially “elect” their employers by giving political contributions to their favored candidates, who end up owing the union favors. And if they don’t get what they want from the government, they can put pressure on entire cities and towns to either kick out the government officials or force surrender.
Either way, parents and taxpayers lose. Between the rock of union-selected politicians that resists education reform (lest they anger their union patrons) and the hard place of radical, ultra-sharp-edged union work stoppages, it’s no surprise that a recent poll found that a plurality of Americans think teachers unions like Randi’s radical AFT have a negative effect on public education.