Thursday, August 30, 2012

Chicago Teachers' Union and Teachers/Parents/ Students/Taxpayers ... The Story of Being Involved versus Committed

There's an easy way to think about the difference between being involved and being committed. It's about breakfast and bacon and eggs. The chicken was involved but the pig was committed.

And so it is with teachers' unions compared to teachers/parents/students and taxpayers. While the union leadership is involved, the others are committed.

Chicago teachers may or may not strike soon, but one thing is certain. Illinois actually has an unfunded public sector retirement liability of ~$83 billion and a long track record of being unable to balance its annual operating budget as well.

So why shouldn't Chicago's teachers strike? Well, I can think of at least $83 billion in reasons and the well being of millions of parents, teachers, students and taxpayers as well.

On the other hand, it's a free country so why not let them strike? If or perhaps when they do, will Illinois Governor Quinn come to the picket line and give the strikers a $10,000 check, as he did during the Caterpillar strike in Joliet? And if not, why not? Doesn't he like teachers as much as he does Caterpillar workers?

Or is there a difference between taxpayer money for public schools and shareholder money for a private company?  Of course, there is.

And if the public sector teachers strike, will Chicago hire replacement teachers and fill in with administrative workers, as Caterpillar did in its Joliet private sector strike?  Or will the students and their parents be given vouchers and allowed to go to other schools, including parochial and private institutions? And if not, why not?

Chicago Teachers Give Notice of Possible Deadline for Strike says this:

" CHICAGO — As parents here prepare to send their children back to school next week, the union representing Chicago Public Schools teachers gave a 10-day notice on Wednesday of its intent to strike, the next legal step in a series of maneuvers amid continuing contract bargaining with the city.

“C.P.S. seems determined to have a toxic relationship with its employees,” Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said at a news conference announcing the move. “We have been belittled, bullied and betrayed by this administration.”

While the latest posturing in this conflict between the city and its teachers’ union does not necessarily mean that a strike is imminent, it places the union a little closer to such action less than a week before most of the city’s 400,000 public school students return to class on Tuesday.

The prospect of a strike in the nation’s third-largest school system puts a strain on the first term of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has listed improving the public schools here among his administration’s top priorities. A teachers’ strike would be the city’s first in 25 years. The union made threats in 2003 but ended up settling without a strike.

“We’re willing to stay at the table and keep negotiating every day needed,” said Becky Carroll, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Public Schools, which will face an estimated budget deficit of $665 million this year and $1 billion next year. “A strike would only hurt our kids.”

With a contract expiring on June 30, the talks over a new one have been escalating for months. The union says its concerns include job security, wages, teacher evaluations and the impact of a newly imposed longer school day.

Beginning this year, the Chicago school system, which had one of the shortest school days in the country, extended its academic day to seven hours from 5 hours 45 minutes for elementary schools and to seven and a half hours from seven hours for high schools. The move added more instructional time for subjects like reading, art, math and science, according to district officials.

Addressing concerns that teachers would be saddled with the extra load, an interim agreement was reached in July to hire additional instructors from a pool of the teachers laid off in the district during the past three years.

But union leaders are unhappy with the way talks are going. On Aug. 22, delegates from each of the 675 schools in the district overwhelmingly voted to give union leaders the power to give notice for a strike at any moment.

Calling the strike notice on Wednesday was the only way to “show them we are serious,” Ms. Lewis said.

Union leaders will meet on Thursday to discuss their next move, which could include selecting a strike date, though it can be no sooner than Sept. 10. Should a walkout occur, the city is expected to make its libraries and park districts available to students."

Summing Up

While my best guess is that there will be no teachers strike in Chicago, the entire situation is a telling display of the dysfunctionality of Illinois politics in general and Chicago's public school situation in particular.

If Illinois has an ~$83 billion public sector unfunded retirement liability, and it does, probably $40 billion or so is attributable to Chicago based employees, a large part of whom are teachers, or so I would guess. But I'll bet the ranch that that $83 billion subject isn't even being discussed in the negotiations between the teachers and the city. They'll skip over that little detail and argue over other stuff instead.

So if that's the case, let's return to our breakfast example of bacon and eggs. $10 can be spent several ways, but only $10 in total can be spent. So if Chicago teachers take part of that $10 in the form of hiring more teachers or paying teachers more in salaries, that takes away from the initial $10.

But, of course, Chicago doesn't have $10 more to spend on more teachers, higher paid teachers, bacon and eggs or anything else, for that matter. In fact, Illinois is short about $83 billion now, breakfast costs excluded.

So where will Illinois and Chicago look for the additional money they will grant teachers to settle this gun against the head contract dispute? To the taxpayers, present and future, of course.

So if we want more teachers, higher paid teachers, more eggs and more bacon, we'll need to come up with more money. Otherwise we'll have to prioritize and perhaps go on a diet, too.

Illinois taxpayers are going to be paying for many more decades the delinquent bills that the teachers' unions, Chicago politicians and Illinois state government officials have run up already. My guess is that the delinquent bills of the past are about to go up even more.

First, we'll see some back-and-forth theatrics, then a contract settlement either at the midnight hour or after a very short work stoppage. The union and city officials will agree, hold hands and congratulate themselves on doing such great work at saving Chicago's schools and students. The TV cameras will capture it all and the taxpayers will get the bill.

Meanwhile, the schools will continue to do a genuinely poor job of educating Chicago's youth and the financial status of Euro-Nois will continue on its rapid downward trajectory.

The lessons for We the People are simple ones. Familiar ones, too.

Politics sucks, public sector unions suck and government failing to face up to our deeply serious financial issues sucks most of all.

Finally, and unlike Caterpillar, don't look for Governor Quinn to be handing out any $10,000 checks to the striking teachers any time soon. He doesn't have any taxpayer money left to give.

Besides, they probably aren't going to strike, but even if they do, it will be a short one.

Just long enough to nail the taxpayers once again.

Thanks. Bob.

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