Why Do Chicago Teachers Always End Up Getting What They Want?

(AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

The Chicago Teacher’s Union is one of the most powerful public-sector unions in the country. Five times in the last ten years, the CTU has gone on strike, most recently this past month over the school district’s COVID-19 policy.

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Work stoppages by the CTU occur with great regularity: in 1969, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1980, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 2012, 2016, 2019, 2021, and 2022, teachers roiled the lives of working parents and kids by going on strike.

This isn’t your run-of-the-mill militancy. The CTU is constantly at war with city leadership as well as the school board and is empowered by the legislature in a state that, more than almost any other, finds its politicians in bed with public sector unions — especially the teachers.

Wall Street Journal:

Illinois unions are empowered by some of the most union-friendly collective-bargaining laws in the country. Illinois lawmakers make it compulsory for state and local governments to bargain with public-sector unions over a host of issues. They also give public-safety workers the power to force arbitration and allow teachers to strike—one of only 13 states to do so. Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation last year that expanded the number of employment issues the CTU can strike over.

States like North Carolina, Texas, and Georgia, by contrast, put the needs of taxpayers before those of their public-sector unions. Those states ban collective bargaining with teachers’ unions altogether.

Related: ‘Go Get Another Job’: Democrats and Republicans Lambaste Teachers’ Unions

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It’s sickening to watch these teachers — activists, really — manipulate children to support their positions. And it doesn’t help that powerful Democratic political leaders bend the knee and kowtow to the teachers, placing enormous pressure on the school board to give in.

Chicago’s leaders have emboldened the CTU by consistently giving in to its demands. Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel folded twice, first in 2012 after a weeklong strike and then again in 2016 after a one-day walkout. Mayor Lori Lightfoot has appeased the union several times. Three years ago, she pre-emptively offered the CTU what she called the “most generous” contract offer in the history of Chicago Public Schools. The unions rebuffed her offer, and Ms. Lightfoot ended up giving away even more after an 11-day strike. In January 2021, when Chicago teachers refused to show up for work, Ms. Lightfoot moved the district start date back multiple times instead of confronting the union.

The result is that Chicago teachers are among the highest-paid in the nation with an extraordinarily generous pension system. And they use that clout for and against politicians by having millions of dollars to spend on campaigns.

Then there is the CTU’s political clout. Beyond the picket line, the union collects millions in member dues that are then spent on lobbying, legal issues and political campaigns. In the 15 months before its two-week strike in 2019, the union spent $1.5 million on lobbying and other political activity, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. It also funneled $1.2 million into the political-action committees of allied candidates and groups.

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Although powerful, the union has a weak spot. Public approval is what gives them their enormous power over city politicians and allows them to run roughshod over the school board. But that may be changing. The recent school shutdowns may have opened a few eyes about how arrogantly they wield that power. And their disregard for parents in canceling classes with little notice has many doing a slow burn.

In truth, the union’s power will only be broken by the politicians who handed them that power in the first place. But with the Republican Party in total disarray in Illinois, that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

 

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