Kadner: No one is going to win Chicago teachers strike
Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-6787 September 11, 2012 4:24PM
Updated: October 14, 2012 1:33PM
This may be one of those times in history when a union strike has consequences far beyond the issues of the moment.
Although representatives of the Chicago Teachers Union say this is not about money (a 16 percent pay increase over four years), I think it’s going to seem that way to an overwhelming number of taxpayers.
I’m talking about people who haven’t had a wage increase in three or four years.
People who have lost their jobs.
People who have found new jobs at 70 percent of their old salary after being downsized.
All of those people, along with the thousands who have lost their homes and the thousands of others suffocating under burdensome property tax bills, aren’t going to see much beyond that 16 percent pay hike.
They see teachers making a good wage (an average of between $71,000 and $78,000, depending on whose figures you believe), with health insurance, pensions and job security, who don’t seem to understand that their neighbors lost all of that long ago.
I’ve tried to talk about that to teachers I know, who work in both Chicago and the suburbs, and they just don’t get it.
Oh, they know people are suffering all around them, but don’t quite seem to comprehend why that should impact their earnings.
“This is about respect,” I’ve had more than one Chicago teacher tell me.
What a quaint, nostalgic notion.
They want their employer to respect them as professionals.
I remember when I felt the same way. That was before I watched colleagues who I had worked with for more than 30 years escorted out of the newspaper office carrying their belongings in cardboard boxes.
That’s happened in workplaces across America, but hearing it isn’t like seeing it.
And I think that’s why teachers don’t really understand the massive dungstorm headed their way.
They don’t get it because they haven’t seen the bodies fall all around them at work.
I guess it’s like explaining to a journalist what it’s like to teach in a Chicago public school. There are some things you have to experience.
If you haven’t seen colleagues lose their jobs, you can’t comprehend how lucky you are to have a job, pay increases, pensions, etc.
I respect teachers. But this is not about teaching, or about the children, no matter what anyone says.
I’ve been covering education in this state for more than three decades and I can tell you that it almost never is about the children.
It’s almost always about politics.
And the reality of the political situation in Illinois, and to a lesser extent throughout the country, is that we’re running out of money.
The state is $8 billion in debt.
Many municipalities have seen businesses close their doors and homes remain empty after foreclosure.
Property values have declined.
And all of that is important because schools rely heavily on property tax revenue to operate.
The money is going away.
Teachers still want pay raises.
They deserve them.
But there is no money.
Chicago offered teachers that 16 percent pay raise over 16 years even though it is facing a $600 million financial deficit.
That can’t continue.
In addition, as I’ve pointed out on many occasions in the past, the state capitol does not harbor friends of public education.
“When the General Assembly passed an income tax hike and didn’t offer any property tax relief for homeowners, didn’t guarantee any additional money for public education, that’s when I decided to walk away,” said state Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago).
Meeks is not seeking re-election. He had been the champion of improved public school funding in Illinois and better education for Chicago schoolchildren.
“But legislators refused to insist on a tax swap (income tax hike for property tax relief) and I never understood it. I didn’t vote for that (income tax hike) bill.
“As far as I was concerned, the fight for better school funding was over and that was really my only issue when I got elected.”
Asked his opinion of the Chicago teachers strike, Meeks paused for a long time and said, “I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
Republicans have been attacking teachers unions for more than two decades and, as a result, Democrats today sound a lot like Republicans in the 1990s.
They back charter schools. They talk about teacher pension reform. President Barack Obama and Mayor Rahm Emanuel support merit pay for teachers.
A student voucher bill, backed by Meeks, passed out of the Illinois Senate a couple of years ago.
Teachers can’t win this strike, even if they get everything they want.
It’s going to be used by politicians throughout the nation to defend slashing school funding in the name of education reform.
As for the schoolchildren, they make good political pawns.