Dr. David Mielke, Retired Dean of the College of Business, Eastern Michigan University
For the first time in 25 years the Chicago public teachers are on strike. This is particularly interesting because Chicago’s Democratic mayor is Rahm Emanuel, former aide to President Obama. Mr. Emanuel has positioned himself as a reformer tying to make teacher evaluation more reliant on student performance, get costs under control and to avoid the necessity to rehire laid-off teachers when new openings occur. What is the “Right Thing to do” when dealing with teacher contracts and strikes?
Let’s look at some issues:
1. Many will say it is all about the money. The board has offered a 3% raise the first year and 2% each of the next 3 years with other increases bringing the total to 16% over 4 years. This is on top of the 19% to 46% increases during the 2007-2012 contract. The cost of living increased 10% over that same time period.
2. The teachers want 29% over two years. Their rationale is that Emanuel increased the school day from 5 hours and 45 minutes to 7 hours. The 5 hour plus day was the shortest among the 10 largest cities in the country.
3. The average Chicago teacher works 1,039 instructional hours per year—roughly half the work time of the average 40 hour a week person.
4. The average Chicago teacher earns $71,000 a year in salary and another $15,000 in benefits. The average private sector Chicago worker who pays the taxes for the teacher salaries and benefits earns $47,000. And remember those teaching jobs are essentially 9 month positions.
5. The Chicago public school district was facing a $700 million deficit when Emanuel took office. It is estimated that over the next 3 years the deficit will be $3 billion, in large part due to increasing salaries and pensions.
6. Chicago schools have one of the worst graduation rates in the country–55%. Only 6% get a college degree.
7. Under state law, the teachers can strike over wages, but not over policies set by the Board. As a result, this strike is illegal.
8. The union wants job protection, where teachers who are laid off would have first preference to be rehired when new jobs open. Chicago schools may be faced with closing 100 failing schools in the next few years. Principals would be locked in to rehire potentially poor teachers.
We can go over many of the points above and answer whether or not this is the “Right Thing to do.” In my opinion, it is time to stand up to the unions. Under the circumstances there should be a pay freeze, higher contributions to health and pension plans to get closer to the private sector percentages, increased emphasis on teacher evaluations, approval of more charter schools and enforcement of the laws against strikes.
Enough is enough.