Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is dealing with a 12-day-old teachers strike that features a contest between the most radical union in the U.S. and one of the nation’s most radical mayors.
It’s not going to end well for her.
When the strike began she told the teachers “there is no more money.” All that did was whet the appetite for battle by the teachers who are now almost certainly going to get almost all of what they want.
Lightfoot is being hit over the head by reality.
“We spent the last 14 hours bargaining today, and we are not close to where we need to be on the big issues,” said Sybil Madison, deputy mayor for education. “We’re going to return tomorrow and work diligently to close the divide.”
Soon after, Chicago Teachers Union president Jesse Sharkey and vice president Stacy Davis Gates said that the union’s most recent proposal asks for an additional $38 million in funds over the city’s last offer.
“That’s the distance that remains between the two parties,” Sharkey said. “We feel like we need to be able to get there.
Sure, why not? It’s only $38 million. And that’s Lightfoot’s problem. The city is facing an $800 million budget shortfall and the union is perfectly willing to exacerbate it. Not their problem and not their money. They apparently don’t see why the city council can’t just slap a few more cents on the dozens of taxes that residents are already paying. Piece of cake.
Lightfoot has discovered that there is no limit to the appetite of the constituencies generated by government spending. She has learned that the special interests bargaining for higher benefits also desire policies that make such benefits unattainable. I hope she’s taking notes.
Chicago Public Schools has run a deficit for the past seven years. Why? Pensions granted to earlier generations of teachers are expensive. And the cost is growing. A quarter of the school budget is devoted to benefits — money that can’t be spent on classrooms, facilities, and instruction. Expect that number to rise as America goes gray and the bill comes due for the promises we made to ourselves.
The federal government can put Social Security and Medicare on the credit card for as long as demand for U.S. Treasuries is high. States and municipalities don’t have that luxury. There is an upper bound to what even the most progressive mayors and governors can grant the lobbies that mobilize voters for their campaigns. But it’s a glass ceiling. Public sector unions are eager to break it.
Chicago reached that “upper bound” years ago and residents have been voting with their feet. In their eagerness to sate the appetite for tax dollars, public unions’ ever-escalating demands have made Chicago the only major city of the top five to lose population over the previous decade.
So with the prospect of having to pay the extortionate demands of teachers, Lightfoot is facing the reality that other U.S. mayors have known for decades. In her case, she probably can’t understand why her ideological allies are treating her this way. They’re on the same side, aren’t they? They’re brothers and sisters in the struggle for social justice, right?
The idea that Lightfoot “means well” isn’t good enough for the union. Good intentions can still lead to hell. For Chicago’s long-suffering taxpayers, they’re already there.