Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

A Strike of Choice


The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has hit the streets in what many have dubbed “the first strike in a generation” in their faceoff against the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

First the numbers, as Lou Dobbs chalks them up:

  • CTU rejected a 16 percent raise over four years;
  • The average Chicago teacher’s salary is $76,000—higher than any other metropolitan district;
  • The average Chicago resident’s salary is $47,000;
  • The average annual teacher pension payout in Illinois is $41,000;
  • CPS is facing a $1 billion shortfall at year’s end;
  • The school day was, until recently, only five hours and 45 minutes, and;
  • 52% of Chicago fourth graders can’t read at a basic level.

CTU President Karen Lewis and the union aren’t shy that they think they deserve better, and they aren’t even shouting out the usual rhetoric about making schools better for kids. It’s all about them.

So-called “job security” measures, not compensation, appear to be driving the walkout.  The Chicago Tribune explains that the recall policy and teacher evaluations are the biggest obstacles to a resolution.

CTU wants to make sure that teachers who are let go get first dibs on any new vacancies. Emmanuel wants principals to decide whom to hire for the open positions, rather than putting it in the hands of the board or the union. CPS has offered a unique plan that still gives opportunities for CTU teachers to remain employed, or to take severance pay. But CTU still isn’t happy, much to the detriment of the education of Chicago students:

Jeanne Allen, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Education Reform, said recall policies do not encourage improvement or change within school districts but rather a status quo that has never led to improvement in educating children.

And while the rest of the world faces job evaluations based on results, the CTU has other ideas in mind. They are adamantly against any evaluations that focus on student test scores. As Lewis says in the CTU’s official press statement:

After the initial phase-in of the new evaluation system it could result in 6,000 teachers (or nearly 30 percent of our members) being discharged within one or two years. This is unacceptable. We are also concerned that too much of the new evaluations will be based on students’ standardized test scores. This is no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator. Further there are too many factors beyond our control which impact how well some students perform on standardized tests such as poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger and other social issues beyond our control.

Being a teacher is not just about putting on a good pedagogical show.  Being a teacher means that you must teach so that students learn. Of course outside pressures are a factor — but what does Lewis want to do to fix that? CTU doesn’t have a proposal other than “we don’t like it.”

Lewis and the CTU have no problem admitting that they are in this battle only for themselves. As Emanuel put it, this is a “strike of choice.” Teachers unions have chosen their own over the children.

Categories: Teachers Unions