Ignoring the economic crisis and the political reality facing teachers and unions this week more than 90 percent of Chicago teachers voted to authorize a strike if they cannot reach an agreement with the school board and Mayor Rahm Emanuel by the fall.
The Chicago teachers are demanding close to a 30 percent pay raise and class size capped at 23 students. As Allysia Finley pointed out in the Wall Street Journal:
The union is demanding a 30% raise over the next two years and class sizes capped at 23 students. Mr. Emanuel wants to give teachers a 2% raise next year and establish a merit pay pilot program. The unions say they're entitled to more money since the district is requiring teachers to work 90 more minutes a day and 10 more days a year. A new law—which the state legislature passed almost unanimously last year—allows the district to impose such changes unilaterally.
The average Chicago teacher makes $76,450, nearly 30% more than the typical private sector worker in Cook County—and teachers work two months less a year. Their last five-year contract called for 4% annual raises. However, the district rescinded teachers' raises last year because its deficit ballooned to $700 million. Its deficit is projected to grow to more than $1 billion in the next two years due to soaring pension costs. Teachers can retire at age 60 with an annuity equal to 75% of their highest average salary, meaning that teachers earn more in retirement than most Chicagoans do on the job.
And Lindsey Burke at the Heritage Foundation describes just why the teachers believe they deserve the 30 percent raise:
The union argues that Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) wants to extend the school day, and that the requested salary increase would compensate them for extending the school day from 5.5 hours—among the nation’s shortest school days—to 7.5 hours. Chicago Public Schools states that under the extended school day:
On average teachers will provide 5.5 hours of instruction (an increase of 54 minutes), receive a 45-minute duty-free lunch and 60-minute prep period and supervise the passing period. They will also be required to be on-site for 10 minutes before and after school.
The HORROR Never Stops. Oh for a 7.5 hour day, 10 months a year.
The Chicago teacher hard-line seems ill advised given where popular opinion about teachers unions is these days. The Wisconsin recall outcome notwithstanding, a new poll by Harvard's Program on Education Policy and Governance and the journal Education Next found that the share of the public with a positive view of union impact on local schools has dropped by seven percentage points in the past year. Among teachers, the decline was an even more remarkable 16 points.
And it’s not just public opinion; union membership has been falling at an alarming pace. According to the Education Intelligence Agency:
You have to go all the way back to 1999-2000 to find an NEA budget with membership projections as low as the ones for 2013-14. NEA is planning for a cumulative loss of 346,000 full-time equivalent active, working members from its high-water mark just three years ago. That would be a drop of almost 15 percent.
While there is still a good chance a strike will be averted, the Chicago teachers willingness to threaten a strike as the main negotiating chip for demands that far exceed the compensation and pensions of the average Chicago worker, will not be the strategy they need to bolster the public employee union image nationwide. All indicators point to the fact that regular people, who make less money and have far less attractive benefits, are tired of paying more to support unsustainable compensation and benefits for teachers.