The big news in Chicago is the sword of Damocles hanging over the city’s head, a prospective teachers’ strike in the fall:
Chicago teachers countered Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s aggressive approach to school reform with the most powerful weapon in their arsenal, giving overwhelming authorization for a strike if contract talks continue to flounder.
Nearly 90 percent of Chicago Teachers Union members, some 23,780 city employees, voted to support a strike if one is called, the union said Monday. Union President Karen Lewis said the three-day vote was an “indictment” of the increasingly strained relationship between teachers and Emanuel’s hand-picked administration at Chicago Public Schools.
The teachers want a 30% wage increase.
Chicago teachers are already the highest-paid in the nation, the average teacher earning $76,000 for a ten month year. That’s double the median wage for Chicago.
Chicago already has the highest sales tax in the United States. Under state law the city doesn’t have the power to impose an income tax. Its only recourse is increasing the property tax:
Regardless of where Chicago teachers currently rank in salary, Civic Federation president Laurenence Msall said there’s one big roadblock to a big raise for teachers.
“It’s math. It’s not really politics, as much as it gets caught up in politics. The financial situation of the Chicago Public Schools is dire. The situation of the State of Illinois – that provides significant funding to the Chicago Public Schools – is dire,” he said. “The property tax payers in Chicago are beleaguered. They’re seeing a drop in their property values, and to be asking them to pay increased property taxes, so we can fund increased salaries for employees is something that’s gonna be a very tough political sell.”
Msall said there’ simply not enough money to support a significant pay hike for the teachers.
“The only way that they will find money to increase some teachers’ salary, is we’re going to have to reduce the number of teachers, and the number of employees in Chicago Public Schools,” Msall said. “There just is no other way to get around it.”
The only other possibility would be imposing a property tax hike.
A 30% pay increase for the 23,000 some-odd Chicago teachers would mean a tax increase of roughly a half billion dollars: $400 for every man, woman, and child in Chicago.
According to the Chicago Public Schools, their increasing budget which even without the pay increase for teachers is $712 million in the red, is growing for three reasons. In decreasing order of importance:
- step/lane salary increases for teachers
- healthcare costs
- pension costs
The first two account for 90% of budget increases.
The president’s latest economic stimulus plan is aimed at staunching the flood of jobs from the public sector. Here in Chicago at least the reason that teachers are being laid off is almost entirely so that the contractual raises can be paid to other teachers and rising healthcare costs. Unless the underlying pathology is addressed more money is just temporary first aid.
Related—from Mickey Kaus:
It would be reductive and predictable for me to point out that all three of these Obama-era problems have a single cause: public employee unions, which helped delay the stimulus, which protect non-essential jobs along with essential jobs, and which negotiate unsustainable layoff-inducing benefits packages (because it’s easier to win a union leadership election if you increase the benefits of 90% of your members while laying off 10% than if you lower the benefits of 100% of your workers by 10%–and piss them all off).
The issue isn’t whether you’re pro-union or anti-union. It’s whether you’re pro-reality or anti-reality. As I have said before, professionals and particularly professionals who are employed by local governments must regulate their wage demands to the community they serve. It is both a professional responsibility and a practical necessity. It is the difference between being a public servant and viewing rent extraction as the sole purpose of government.