What’s Work Got to Do with It? Labor Day the Chicago Teachers Union Way

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis

Most Americans are celebrating Labor Day with barbecues, picnics, and parades—but not the Chicago Teachers Union. They’re busy planning the city’s first teachers’ strike in 25 years, which incidentally coincides with the September 10 start of most Chicago Public Schools.

Observers had hoped a strike could be averted when Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the CTU struck a deal last month to lengthen students’ school day without lengthening most teachers’ workdays.

To make up the additional school time without extending teachers’ work day, CPS agreed to hire 477 teachers to fill instructional time with music, art, foreign language and physical education classes. Those teachers will be hired from a pool of staff laid off during the past three years—which was supposed to ease ongoing tensions between the mayor and CTU President Karen Lewis.

The deal will cost up to $50 million while CPS is in the budget hole to the tune of $665 million. As it is, CPS spends one and a half times the national average per pupil, at approximately $16,000. The district raided its reserves this summer to partially fill its $665 million budget deficit and $338 million in pension back payments, causing Standard & Poor’s Rating Services to downgrade the district’s bond rating from AA- to A+. This will mean an extra $1 to $2 million in extra interest payments for taxpayers in the coming year.

Mayor Emanuel has rebuffed the CTU’s recommendation that the needed funds be pulled from charter schools’ budgets, insisting he’s not going to deprive parents and their children of this popular form of school choice. The mayor is also putting the needs of students ahead of powerful adults.

“Fifty percent of our kids graduate. Scores haven’t moved. Yet not one additional minute of instructional time for the children where they can be safe and learning…I will not accept our children continuing to get the shaft,” he said. But apparently CTU leadership is fine with that.

On August 6, Lewis appeared on a Madison, Wisconsin, radio program and accused Mayor Emanuel of beating up on teachers and being a “bully.” She added that CTU teachers are fighting his “tyranny.” (3.18 minutes) Asked whether the CTU would strike, Lewis demurred saying only that they are preparing for the possibility, but added that “we expect there to be a large contingent of people from outside of Chicago supporting and helping” if the strike goes through. (10.42 minutes)

So here we are. A holiday that the U.S. Department of Labor says “is a creation of the labor movement and…constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” Labor Day should be an occasion to appreciate the success “of the 155 million men and women who are in the U.S. workforce,” notes Forbes.com. Instead, union bosses like the CTU’s Karen Lewis seem to think that public schools are little more than a grand government jobs program for certain adults at taxpayer expense, instead of places of learning for students.

This Labor Day I’m thankful to be living in a state that protects citizens’ right to work, parents’ right to choose the schools they think are best for their children, taxpayers’ right to save for their children’s educations, both K-12 and college, and workers’ right to direct some of their hard-earned paychecks to K-12 scholarship programs. (See here, here, and here.)

Vicki E, Alger is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Senior Fellow and Director of the Women for School Choice Project at the Independent Women’s Forum. She is the author of the Independent book, Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children.
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