By Taylor Armerding
— Children? What children? There's money at stake here, not to mention political power. The children can wait. Their parents can find something else for them to do.
The Chicago Teachers Union, which was out on strike as this was written, has its priorities, after all - it is now the self-anointed point of the spear in the grand and glorious struggle for "downtrodden" working people - and those priorities have nothing to do with what is best for students.
Oh, the kids get mentioned in passing every now and then, to lay a guilt trip on anyone who resists their insatiable demands, but this is all about adults who are among the most self-absorbed in the nation. It is all about their hurt feelings, their wallets that are never fat enough, and the preservation of job security provisions that make it impossible to fire anyone who isn't a convicted child predator.
They insist they are victims of ruthless political leaders who are little better than the robber barons of previous generations.
Which is a bit ironic, since the ruthless leader in this case is not a fascist Republican, but rather Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former chief of staff to President Obama, both Democrats who owe their electoral success to the backing of big labor.
Obama, needing to maintain the pretense that he is not labor's poodle, is relatively silent on the conflict. And the union, knowing that the alternative to Obama would be worse for them, is giving him a pass.
But nobody else gets a pass.
"You have a situation where the teachers feel totally and completely disrespected,'' said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the parent union of the CTU.
Which would make any objective observer wonder if she is visiting from another planet. To borrow a phrase from former President Bill Clinton, "it takes a lot of brass" for the teachers unions to play the victim. The CTU, and public unions everywhere, get vastly more respect than the hard-pressed taxpayers who get stuck with the bill for the lavish salaries, work rules, pensions, and other benefits in union contracts.
Weingarten's wailing about the damage to teachers' self esteem reminds me of a teachers union president in a small city who, after my newspaper had editorialized that his contract demands were not affordable for his community, marched into an editorial board meeting and opened with, "We know you hate teachers' unions."
To which the only logical response would have been, "We know you hate taxpayers."
Both claims are absurd.
As has been reported by numerous news outlets - although most are not part of the mainstream media - this is what the CTU considers completely disrespectful:
- The average Chicago teacher who retires after just 30 years of employment has a final salary of $105,888 and will receive an annual pension of $78,576. That puts that teacher in the top 5 percent of all workers nationwide.
- The average salary of a Chicago teacher is $74,839, while the income of the average household in Chicago is $47,000.
- Chicago public schools have among the shortest school day in the country: 5 hours, 45 minutes.
- The union opened the current stalled contract negotiations with a demand for a 30 percent salary increase over four years, and then dialed that back to a more "modest" 19 percent. The district has offered 16 percent. How many average Chicago residents are seeing anything close to that kind of salary bump?
- Chicago teachers pay 3 percent of their medical insurance benefits.
The only victims here are the taxpayers and the students.
That is not the only absurdity here. As a few people have been brave enough to note, 71 percent of the district's eighth-grade students aren't proficient at the most basic level of science, and nearly 80 percent are not grade-level proficient in reading. The district dropout rate is 40 percent.
But, as is always the case when students aren't progressing, the union blames everybody and everything but its members - poverty, lack of air conditioning, not enough books or the wrong books, not enough nurses, not enough counselors, and, of course, not enough "investment" from taxpayers.
If the students are successful, then of course the union claims that the teachers must get all the credit. So, no sanctions for failure, but rewards for success - the essence of union groupthink.
Ironically, Emanuel and his fellow Democrats are only reaping what they have sown. They, as wholly owned subsidiaries of big labor, are the ones who allowed public sector unions to exist and to gain such power. They should not be surprised when the built-in conflict of interest bites them.
And the union knows that both Obama and Emanuel don't want this to drag on - they can't afford the distraction, not to mention the potential cooling of labor support, with the presidential election about 50 days away.
Chances are, Emanuel is going to have to cave. Then we will find out what the cost will be for those who are really disrespected, and who are the real victims. Here's a hint: It is not the teachers.
- Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.