In a scenario remarkably similar to those played out all too frequently in Pennsylvania schools and transit agencies, strikes and threat of strikes are being used in Chicago to boost public employee pay, benefits and working conditions. Teachers walked off the job this morning making good their threat of two weeks ago.
Like a bad relationship, this is a gift that keeps on giving. The right of teachers to strike in Illinois, one of the three leading states for teacher strikes and one only a handful that still permit strikes, should be a wakeup call for taxpayers around the country. Demands of public sector unions are the primary force in the rapidly growing number of state and local governments facing financial chaos.
Chicago teachers already earn far more than the average Chicago household, $71,000 to $47,000, and receive substantially more benefits. Yet they are demanding a 30 percent pay increase over the next four years in addition to job security guarantees. All this against a backdrop of a school district facing nearly a billion dollar deficit by the need of the school year. Where will the money come from? State taxpayers that just recently saw a huge increase in their income tax rate? Local property taxes? This in a state with horrendous financial problems of its own.
What’s even more deplorable is the abominable academic performance in the public schools in Chicago where only 15 percent of fourth graders are reading at fourth grade level and only 56 percent of students ever graduate. It is little wonder that 50,000 of the City’s 400,000 students are enrolled in charter schools-where there is no strike and students are going to school.
The taxpayers are almost certain losers in this episode, the way they always are in Pennsylvania public sector work stoppages. The shame is that people with the power to shut down vital public services have learned that enough is never enough. And experience tells them the taxpayers, the students and the parents of students can just shut up and take it. And they will take it until they grow a backbone strong enough to vote out the legislators who insist on protecting public sector unions.
Given the Mayor’s strained relationship with the union and his opposition to the demands of the teachers, it will be interesting to see how the President reacts and which side he will support. Will it be loyalty to his former chief of staff or go where the votes are-the teachers unions as representative of his most formidable voting bloc?