I think we can confidently put a period on the Richard M. Daley era of Chicago city governance. This morning the Chicago Teachers Union went out on strike:
“Negotiations have been intense but productive, however we have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike,” Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said at a dramatic 10 p.m. Sunday press conference. “Real school will not be open [Monday]. … No CTU member will be inside our schools.
“Please seek alternative care for your children.”
The announcement was quickly blasted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel as “a strike of choice” that didn’t have to happen if talks continued. He repeatedly declared: “My team is available now.”
But Lewis, just before the midnight strike deadline, said talks wouldn’t resume until Monday. She said she texted School Board President David Vitale and they agreed to meet Monday.
A “disappointed” Emanuel said the latest deal offered to the teachers was “very respectful of our teachers and is right by our children.”
I’ve already expressed my opinion of wage increases for Chicago teachers: half of Chicago’s teachers (plus more than half of Chicago’s police officers and firefighters) are already in the top 10% of Chicago’s income earners. They are the rich. The only feasible way to fund pay increases is by increasing property taxes, the burden of which will fall hardest on the poorest and weakest. We are living in a period during which public revenues are struggling to remain where they are. This is not the time for public employees to demand pay increases.
The last strike by Chicago teachers was in 1987 when Eugene Sawyer was president. The Chicago Public Schools was brought under Chicago’s city government during the mayoralty of his successor, Richard M. Daley, who has been mayor ever since.
Richie Daley’s father, Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, gained a reputation as a tough negotiator with Chicago’s public employees’ unions by bringing the union leadership into his office, closing the door, and giving them everything they wanted.
If you assume (as I do) that Mayor Emanuel’s ambitions extend beyond being mayor of Chicago, he may rue the day that CPS came within the purview of City Hall. The job is a lot harder when you may need to say “No”.
Chicago area resident Mike Shedlock makes his own, somewhat harsher comments about the strike and publishes an email he received from John Tillman of the Illinois Policy Center. From the email alert:
The fiscal reality is that Chicago Public Schools are broke. CPS will be draining cash reserves this year just to stay afloat, and will be $1 billion in the red next school year. The 30 percent raise CTU originally asked for is out of the question, and so are other double-digit raises that CTU has demanded. Average teacher pay in Chicago is already at $71,000 without benefits, while the average Chicagoan makes only $30,203 and the unemployment rate in the city is nearly 11 percent.
Median pay for a Chicago Public School teacher is $76,000.
As I’ve written before I think that professionals and public servants need to regulate their wage requirements to the capabilities of the community they serve. There is no blood in this stone.
I haven’t looked at the CPS’s financial statements lately but I strongly suspect that the real, untold story in all of this is the rising cost of healthcare. When the cost of insuring Chicago’s teachers rises much faster than Chicago’s revenues do, something has to give. It could be the number of teachers or teacher pay. Chicago already has the highest sales tax in the country. Property values are falling and increasing property taxes by the amounts that would be required will be confiscatory. It will drive people from city.