Disruptive strike finally is over

Disruptive strike finally is over

Both sides often lose in a strike. But Chicago teachers won hands down.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel likes to think of himself as a tough guy, and that's one reason he revels in his nicknames as "the Rahmfather" or "Rahmbo."

But there's tough, and then there's really tough. The Chicago Teachers Union — militant, organized and used to getting its own way — showed Emanuel a thing or two in its seven-day strike that won much of what the union wanted from the tough-talking Emanuel.

The union not only figured out a way around a new state law drafted specifically to forestall a Chicago teachers' strike, but succeeded in watering down new statewide requirements designed to toughen teacher evaluation rules and get poor-performing teachers out of the classroom.

The mayor, of course, formally declared victory Tuesday.

"In past negotiations, taxpayers paid more, but our kids got less. This time, our taxpayers are paying less, and our kids are getting more," Emanuel said.

As far as platitudes go, that's first-rate. But Emanuel gave the game away when he refused to answer questions about the four-year agreement. The devil is in the details, and Emanuel didn't want to delve into the fine print.

Here's how one Chicago Tribune headline addressed a particularly tough issue.

"Mayor praises contract but won't detail how city will pay for raises."

The Chicago school district is in debt by roughly $1 billion, and now it's agreed to spend another $74 million. How can the city do that?

It can't, and that's why the Emanuel administration already has leaked stories to the news media that indicate the school board will close more than 100 schools. That, of course, raises a question routinely addressed to union leaders — how are they serving their members' interests when they negotiate salary and benefit increases that result in management having to lay off some union members to pay more to other union members.

But that's an issue for another day.

The good news is that the strike is over, and more than 350,000 schoolchildren who were held hostage by striking teachers can return to city schools. The bad news is that the city's schools aren't very good. More than 40 percent of ninth-graders don't graduate from high school. Elementary school students are behind and stay behind the academic performance of their peers elsewhere.

This agreement may help move city schools forward to some degree, but they already are so far behind that marginal improvements don't count for much. The reality is that thousands of children in Chicago do not receive the kind of education they will need to be successful in life.

Mayor Emanuel did win some gains — the school day will be increased by about an hour, but 500 new teachers will be hired to cover the extra time. Teacher evaluations will be based on student performance, but only partially. School principals can make their own decision on whom they hire rather than be forced to accept the laid-off teachers based on seniority.

For their part, teachers were successful in watering down rules for performance evaluation. They also defeated the idea of merit pay and won a substantial pay increase, more than 17 percent over four years. The increases comes in the form of extra pay for experience and advanced degrees as well as a 10 percent hike over four years.

The bottom line is that the teachers flexed their muscles and, as a result, got a far better deal than Emanuel wanted to give them. Already well-paid, they threw the city into chaos to protect their interests and gave Rahmbo a lesson in how to play hardball.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion
Categories (2):Editorials, Opinions


News-Gazette.com embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. We reserve the right to remove any comment at our discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments

Sid Saltfork wrote on September 20, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Let's be honest.  The Chicago teachers have not striked in 25 years until now.  The current media opinion is to blame the teachers because Johnny, and Susie cannot read at their age level, and the teachers belong to a union.  The strike was not just about pay raises.  The strike was about national educational issues.  It was about honest performance evaluations other than the student's lack of performance on standardized tests.  That made the teacher at fault for the parents lack of responsibility, and the student's inattentiveness.  It was about laid off teachers having the right to interview for open jobs in the district rather than only new applicants being interviewed.  Teachers were being laid off in some schools not because of their performance; but because of schools reorganizing.  They were not being allowed to interview for other jobs in the city.  The strike, also, was about classroom size.  Teaching 40 kids, and being responsible for each kid's improved performance on standardized tests is absurd.  Those issues are the same issues facing educators all across the country.  It took a strike to get a "compromise" on those issues in Chicago.  The teachers agreed to work a longer school day also.  It was not just about pay raises.  Although, teachers are faced with increased living costs like the rest of us.  They are not making the big bucks like the administrators.  It is not as simple as portraying a Democrat mayor, and a teachers union as the incompetent, and greedy culprits.  I am sorry; but the N-G's opinion appears to be conservative political bias, and propaganda.

EL YATIRI wrote on September 21, 2012 at 8:09 am
Profile Picture

The NG takes every opportunity to support the GOP.  It is our local version of Faux News. The dems make it easy for them with their dismal behavior which is only marginally better than the repugs in my opinion.

What is not in doubt is the lackluster performance of our public schools.  It's not just a teacher issue in my opinion.  Here in Champaign all the high functioning, affluent students have been shifting to private and religious schools.  The public schools are left with all the problems.  People who are able move to Monticello, Mahomet, and other towns with the better public schools. 

I have seen affluent families send their high functioning kids to private schools, but their autistic and behavior problem children are dumped on the public schools.  Disruptive, behaviorally challenged students in overcrowded classrooms is the result.

Trying to mete out discipline based on racial quotas essentially tied teacher's hands when dealing with problem minority students.  All the result of a lawsuit brought by a local "activist"

It is a complicated issue, and meanwhile our students are way behind chinese, korean, european, indian and other nations.

Unions have coddled incompetent teachers and are in need of reform also, and they are not blameless in this.

Sid Saltfork wrote on September 21, 2012 at 11:09 am

EL YATIRI;  I understand your points, and agree with most.  Why did teachers, and other occupations unionize in the first place?  Unions developed in this country from the early 1900's thru the 1950's.  They developed because of health and safety problems, the need for a day off during the week, fair pay, and protection from management.  Granted times have changed; but the times can change back to what it was before unions.  It is happening more, and more in this country.  Unions are like any other organization with elected leaders.  They need change regularly.  The leader of the Chicago teachers union represents new leadership.  She pushed for "compromise".  There has to be a balance between school boards, and teachers unions.  Why do negotiations start in the spring, and nothing gets accomplished until after school starts?  I blame the school boards as much as I blame the teachers.  I cannot understand why any young person with the intelligence to complete a degree would ever consider teaching as a profession.  It would be interesting to see the national college enrollment of Education majors over the past three years.  Has it declined significantly?

EL YATIRI wrote on September 21, 2012 at 7:09 pm
Profile Picture

It is a good thing that unions are changing.  I definitely do not want to go back to the days before unions, that was unacceptable.

Sid Saltfork wrote on September 22, 2012 at 2:09 pm

I am retired; but I still pay my union dues even though I don't have to do it.  I, also, get fed up with the union leadership; but staying a member is one way to change the leadership.  Elected officials whether politicians, or union leaders need to be changed at times.

My father was injured on the job when I was 8 years old.  The company provided nothing to help our family during my father's recovery.  Workman's Compensation was a joke because it meant that my father would not have a job to come back to with the company.  The company would have black balled him.  The day my father came home from the hospital the Teamster rep knocked on the door.  He had a box of groceries, and cash for us.  He came back regularly until my father went back to work for the company.  I stand by unions; and my brothers, and sisters who are in them.  If people don't like that; they can get in line to ........... express their opinion.