The Chicago teachers’ strike is troubling on several fronts. Foremost is the fact that an otherwise well-paid group of teachers would ever consider striking on the first day of school at a time when folks in Chicago and across the country are trying to deal with extreme financial issues. The terrible inconvenience to parents of trying to find care for their children plus losing days at work makes the families’ situation much worse. In addition it appears that Chicago children are suffering from poor scholastic performance – losing valuable days while teachers dance in the street is tragic.
The strike is an exercise of power intended to coerce an agreement because of a perceived hardship. While its legitimacy may be arguable in the private sector, it is not viable in the public sector. I know and am related to some very fine teachers who deserve to be paid at or above similar jobs in the private sector. I also know some stinkers and slackers whom I would not allow to walk my dog. I understand one of the grievances is that the teachers do not want to be held accountable for their performance. And yes, significant issues exist in trying to rate performance in any arena. However, the answer is not to refuse to be rated. Also, the teachers want to retain the seniority system that keeps teachers who have been employed the longest and releases newer hires no matter what their skill or performance levels. We readily accept a college or professional sports coach seeking and retaining the best talent possible. Should we not seek and retain the best possible talent to teach our children?
Listening to the 2009 speech of NEA General Counsel Bob Chanin, departing after 41 years of service, provides some insight into how we arrived at this troubling point. He spoke to thousands of wildly cheering teachers about the benefit of power to the union:
1. not because of their creative ideas,
2. not because of the merit of their ideas (They could be dead wrong yet still should win because of their power?),
3. not because they care about children,
4. not because of their great vision.
No–because millions of teachers are willing to pay hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the power. He goes on to say those things are okay, but not at the expense of due process, employee rights, and collective bargaining. Taxpayers pony up anywhere from $10,000 to 20,000 per year per pupil. I doubt that their expectation is for the purposes espoused by Mr. Chanin.
TRANSCRIPT CHANIN: …
And that brings me to my final, and most important point. Which is why, at least in my opinion, NEA and its affiliates are such effective advocates. Despite what some among us would like to believe, it is not because of our creative ideas. It is not because of the merit of our positions. It is not because we care about children. And it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power. And we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues each year because they believe that we are the unions that can most effectively represent them, the unions that can protect their rights and advance their interests as education employees.
This is not to say that the concern of NEA and its affiliates with closing achievement gaps, reducing dropout rates, improving teacher quality, and the like are unimportant or inappropriate. To the contrary, these are the goals that guide the work we do. But they need not and must not be achieved at the expense of due process, employee rights, and collective bargaining. That simply is too high a price to pay. [NEA, 7/6/09]
It seems like the union has laid down the gauntlet. If you do not allow us to run things and pay us big bucks, we will bludgeon you with extreme coercion. We will clog the streets. We will dance and prance. We will enlist children to show support.
Time for the taxpayers and city officials to buck up. Fairness should prevail, but the playing field should be level.
I remember the air traffic controllers’ strike in the early 1980s. Ronald Reagan indicated to the strikers that it was illegal and that they would be fired very shortly if they did not return to work. Many did not; they were fired. Very harsh, yet necessary for the ordinary course of commerce, safety, and travel. The law as it relates to the Chicago situation might not be the same although it might be similar. I would hope that reason, not litigation, could prevail and teachers go back to work while dealing with their issues. Striking to maintain their power does not seem to be a noble use of this drastic tool. Instead of striking, the traffic controllers could have picketed on their own time, and I expect public opinion would have supported reasonable ideas. Finally, if the strike is settled, teachers should not be paid for the time they did not work. If the teachers or other public servants insist on holding the public hostage, I hope the public would back needed reform.
Suggested reading: NEA, Trojan Horse in American Education, Samuel L. Blumenfeld, 1984