In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Tad Dabrowski and John Klingner explain why Chicago Public School teachers have gone out on strike five times in the last ten years:
The union should be called out for its militancy, but Illinois lawmakers are most at fault. Their laws and actions have made Illinois an outlier when it comes to giving public-sector unions power over ordinary residents.
Illinois unions are empowered by some of the most union-friendly collective-bargaining laws in the country. Illinois lawmakers make it compulsory for state and local governments to bargain with public-sector unions over a host of issues. They also give public-safety workers the power to force arbitration and allow teachers to strike—one of only 13 states to do so. Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation last year that expanded the number of employment issues the CTU can strike over.
States like North Carolina, Texas and Georgia, by contrast, put the needs of taxpayers before those of their public-sector unions. Those states ban collective bargaining with teachers unions altogether.
Chicago’s leaders have emboldened the CTU by consistently giving in to its demands. Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel folded twice, first in 2012 after a weeklong strike and then again in 2016 after a one-day walkout. Mayor Lori Lightfoot has appeased the union several times. Three years ago, she pre-emptively offered the CTU what she called the “most generous” contract offer in the history of Chicago Public Schools. The unions rebuffed her offer, and Ms. Lightfoot ended up giving away even more after an 11-day strike. In January 2021, when Chicago teachers refused to show up for work, Ms. Lightfoot moved the district start date back multiple times instead of confronting the union.
Lawmaker giveaways have made Chicago teachers some of the highest-paid in the nation, which in turn has boosted member support for the union’s aggressive actions. CPS teacher salaries, adjusted for cost of living, consistently rank in the top five of the country’s 148 largest school districts, according to salary data compiled by the National Council on Teacher Quality. At nearly $60,000, a new Chicago teacher with a bachelor’s degree is the highest paid of any equivalent big-district educator.
Don’t forget pensions. The average career CPS educator retires at 62 with a starting pension of $74,000. Tack on a compounding 3% annual cost-of-living increase and that teacher can expect more than $2.3 million in total benefits in retirement.
To the rank and file, the results speak for themselves. Bigger paychecks tell teachers that CTU strikes and walkouts are worth supporting. In 2016, 95% of union members were in favor of a strike. In 2019, 94% of teachers voted to strike. And this latest walkout began when 73% of members voted to shut classrooms down.
Then there is the CTU’s political clout. Beyond the picket line, the union collects millions in member dues that are then spent on lobbying, legal issues and political campaigns. In the 15 months before its two-week strike in 2019, the union spent $1.5 million on lobbying and other political activity, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. It also funneled $1.2 million into the political-action committees of allied candidates and groups.
As if all of this weren’t enough, Illinois lawmakers recently voted to add a referendum to the November 2022 ballot that would enshrine and vastly expand the state’s extreme union powers in the Illinois Constitution. That amendment would deny any chance at future labor reforms and create a new, personal constitutional right that would subject even more labor issues to litigation.
It’s hard to see what to add to that. Chicagoans need to be delivered from the tyranny of the public employees’ unions but I can’t imagine any leader getting elected who would do it. When the average teacher earns three times the median Chicago wage, cushy pensions are added to that, enrollments decline faster than the population of the city even as its liabilities rise, something’s got to give.