Behind the Chicago Teachers’ Strike: Why Talks Must Be Made Public

With city officials and the Chicago teachers' union at an impasse, both sides should heed Louis Brandeis' call and start negotiating in the open

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Spencer Green / AP

Chicago teachers walk a picket line outside Benjamin Banneker Elementary School in Chicago on Sept. 10, 2012

Spoiler alert: when Maggie Gyllenhaal’s new feature film, Won’t Back Down, hits theaters later this month, its plot hinges on the forcing of school officials to make big decisions in front of parents rather than behind closed doors. The film is fictional, but raging against backroom power politics is not. Teachers’ unions and district officials almost always negotiate privately, so when those negotiations reach a deal or an impasse — or lead to a strike, as they did in Chicago yesterday — the public gets to hear only part of the story as families scramble to figure out what to do with their kids. Chicago, whose 400,000 students make it the U.S.’s third largest school district, today offered safe havens for kids in dozens of public libraries and churches and, for a four-hour stretch this morning, in nearly 150 public schools staffed with nonunion workers.

(MORE: Chicago Teachers Strike: What They’re Fighting For)

At issue in the Chicago strike — the first by the city’s teachers in 25 years — are clashes between the union and Mayor Rahm Emanuel on how to handle teacher pay, evaluations, benefits and layoffs. In public, the Chicago Teachers Union uses generalities to describe its demands, with the union president, Karen Lewis, saying the teachers want a “fair contract.” But according to one senior Chicago official with direct knowledge of the negotiations with the union reps, “Their public rhetoric has almost nothing to do with what’s happening at the table.” Media accounts indicate that the city’s latest offer was to raise teacher pay 16% over the next four years, but the senior city official and other sources with knowledge of the negotiations say the union demanded raises that would amount to at least a 35% salary increase over three years as well as guaranteed jobs for any teachers who get laid off as Chicago’s schools downsize. The city does not have that kind of money, and other changes the union is demanding would essentially render meaningless a new law in Illinois that mandates improved teacher evaluations there.

But the transparency problem isn’t just with the unions. Management, too, takes requests to the table that they would rather not have splashed across the front pages of newspapers. In Chicago, for instance, city officials aren’t eager to broadcast some of the provisions in the teachers’ contract that are designed to control costs, because that could make it more difficult to attract seasoned teachers from other school districts. That’s a hard one to explain to parents, who want the best teachers for their kids but don’t understand the ins and outs of personnel rules.

(MORECan Parents Take Over Schools?)

Airing these kinds of issues out in public could turn contract negotiations into teachable moments for both parents and taxpayers. For starters, people need to understand that while policy debates over standardized testing and school vouchers grab most of the headlines, in practice, what’s in a local teachers’ contract generally matters more to the day-to-day experiences of students. In 2006, I co-wrote a book with Jane Hannaway, titled Collective Bargaining in Education, in which we proposed holding contract negotiations in public as one way to break education’s gridlock between labor and management.

It’s a hard sell, and few places have been motivated by Louis Brandeis’ famous statement that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” Making talks public can be a messy process. Earlier this year, Douglas County in Colorado decided to negotiate its new teachers’ contract in public, announcing when and where the meetings would be held so anyone could attend. Among the sticking points was whether taxpayers should continue to pay for half of the salaries of teachers who are working full-time for the teachers’ union. The school board, which has been standing firm in its demands to stop paying for this, voted last week to stop negotiating with the teachers’ union altogether but declined to put the issue to voters to decide. A mediator ruled against the school board last month, and the entire dispute seems headed for court.

But negotiating in public shouldn’t be about tilting the field one way or the other. It should be about moving important education issues into the light of day. At least then, citizens could get a full understanding of what’s behind the drama in places like Chicago and Douglas County.

91 comments
Jill Louis
Jill Louis

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Jazz King
Jazz King

Chicago teachers are overcompensated already.  They make about double the average national compensation for all workers:

 

According to Salaries.com, average salary for a Chicago teacher is $55,607, which represents just 70.1% of total compensation. That means that benefits such as obese defined-benefit pensions and cadillac health care plans are worth another $23,820 for a total annual average compensation of $79,427. 

 

In addition according to AllEducationSchools.com, teachers work about 500 hours less than the typical 2000 hours worked by other professions, so an annualized teacher salary is $105,903 (79427/1500*2000) or $53 per hour! 

 

Not bad, considering the job security and other advantages of being a public employee. 

 

But the unionized slugs want even more and a whopping 16% more is not enough (it never is). 

 

Fire. Them. All.

fleschfan
fleschfan

This strike will ultimately be good for America. Either the teachers' union will be put in their

proper place or the public will see that public education as we know it can not do the job

it was created to do. The unions want lavish pay and benefits for 5/8  of a full time job. Absolute job protection with no system of accountability is their reality. With the aging

baby boomers demanding their own entitlements  we are headed into an epic fight for

government goodies. Our government has borrowed money to the point where economic

breakdown is a serious possibility. We can no longer support this system  and if the teachers' unions can't see reality the public will be forced to recreate public education  into a more

managable  and accountable system.

  

John Foster
John Foster like.author.displayName 1 Like

Notice the unhinged, vile, completely hate-obsessed comments about the people who educate our children. You'd think they were talking about convicted criminals. 

It's disgusting. And it's very easy to throw juvenile and neo-fascist garbage at people, while you cowardly hide your true identity. Isn't it?

Teachers don’t make a

lot of money. They obviously don’t teach because it’s lucrative. They do it

despite the fact that it pays so poorly.

How will my child’s education improve if we

continue to chip away at the little bit of economic security that teachers now

have?

Will my son become a better student if the

person who teaches him is constantly worried about money, job security, and remaining

part of the school in the future?

Will my child’s teacher somehow become more

focused and “better at teaching” if we browbeat her, call her “lazy” and

“stupid”, imply that she’s “just doing it for summers off and that pension when

she retires”?

Here’s the reality:

- Showing teachers even less respect won’t

produce better students. Okay?

- Taking away the rights that the teacher’s

union provides won’t make our kids work harder and achieve more. Okay?

- Allowing outside interests—often backed by

the country’s richest people who NEVER have their kids in our schools—to come

in to our schools and turn one segment of parents against another, using

manipulative, deceitful, election-type propaganda and false promises, is NOT a

way to improve our schools. Okay?

- Harvard will not be in my child’s future—and neither

will the local state university extension campus—if his teachers are paid no

better than workers at Burger King. Okay?

- My child will not become a better student if

all of his teachers in the future are kids right out of college, with little or

no education background, making starvation wages, with lousy benefits and zero

representation and rights. Okay?

You’re advocating an educational system where

teachers can be fired when they “get too old” or “voted for someone I don’t

like” or “wouldn’t accept my repeated invitations for an intimate, late night

dinner”. And there will be zero process of appeal or any attempt to hear the

other side of the story.

I agree that it’s wrong that ALL American

citizens don’t have any due process before we’re fired, or a process of appeal

when we’re accused of some infraction, or a decent pension at the end of our

careers. But why should those things be eliminated for those remaining few who

do? How would that help them, or any of us? Or, most importantly, our children,

who need seasoned, knowledgeable, experienced people in their classrooms---not

a rotating cast of “Peace Corps” type volunteers, mixed with a permanent squad

of rotating, short-term, at-will substitutes.  

Stripping teachers of their union

representation, their professional standing, and their personal dignity will

NOT make my child the scholar I want him or her to be. Why would anyone assume

otherwise?

Okay?

We’re playing right into the hands of the worst

elements of our society when we let ourselves be brainwashed into hating our

teachers and the very concept of free, universal education.

As a parent—I’ve never been a teacher, and I’ve

never had a relative that was a teacher—I want the best, not just for “my kid”,

but for ALL kids. He can’t succeed if everyone around him is failing.

And none of these beautiful children will

succeed if the right-wingers and billionaires behind the push for charters,

vouchers, triggers and privatization succeed in their plans to make public

schools a thing of the past.

As with most things: Follow the money and you’ll then begin to understand the

real motivations behind this “education reform” movement. That’s where the

truth of all this is to be found.

The “education reformers” are out to take our schools from us.

Don’t believe them when they insist otherwise. Their track records are not

models of integrity. And the only thing that can stop them is us! 

Let’s stand together and fight, parents: Get behind the teachers in Chicago and ALL teachers, everywhere. The Privatizers are out to destroy our schools. And the time to be counted is now!

dwsmokin
dwsmokin

Wow-a thoughtful, insightful, fair, and well written assessment of the state of the teachers union-in Time? Who woulda thunk it.

Bonnie The Nanny
Bonnie The Nanny

Only someone as backward, clueless and filled with hatred as yourself, "dwsmokin"...

ssenecal5000
ssenecal5000

Well making them public wont do at all

Obama and Rahm are big Union supporters  The "negotiations" dont exist.

What they have is a plan hatched by them to get the unions more money despite the fact they are the worst and already most paid  teachers in the nation

Bonnie The Nanny
Bonnie The Nanny

Hey, ssenecal5000...have you seen any professionals yet to help you with your delusions?

doubleturn
doubleturn

You might want to lay off the drugs. They are making you delusional. 

I_Go_Pogo
I_Go_Pogo

When pigs fly! ( other than on Air Force One )

stuckinIL4now
stuckinIL4now

Great idea, but not just Chicago--how about ALL teacher compensation negotiations, and for that matter, ALL public employee compensation negotiations should be public. They're getting with public money, I think the taxpayers should have the final say. Oh yeah, and add compensation for ALL elected officials as well. No more secrets. No more kicking the can down the generational road.

Rules4FreeRadicals
Rules4FreeRadicals

A small civil war between two factions of the corrupt, extremely greedy Chicago Democrat Party Machine. 

Fire them all.

Give all the parents vouchers for their kids to get out of the hellhole Chicago "schools."

Facilitate Charter Schools for the entire student population.

pjean
pjean

When the funding of these teacher's union is coming out of the taxpayer's pocket.....

Hell Yeah.

Robert
Robert

Watching this fight is like watching North Korea and China go to war.  You hope that both will ultimately lose, but at the same time happy for the entertainment it's going to provide.

Richard
Richard

 

Why would a taxpayer with no pension plan of his own vote to fund the retirement of a  government union worker  age 55 with full pension benefits?

Bonnie The Nanny
Bonnie The Nanny

Hey, Einstein: Ever hear of "deferred compensation"? Go back to school and let your teacher know when you've absorbed such a "complex" idea.

A pension is EARNED, every day, over decades. And it helps both the citizens and the employees when some of it is put away, for old age. Based on history and psychology, we know that people will spend it all, if you give it all. 

Sorry. I'm talking over your head, obviously. Hey, go tell Chris Christie and the other Republicans that the jig is up: We're no longer going to look the other way when they "borrow" (steal) public pensions, use them for "tax cuts" in an attempt to gain short-term political popularity, and then blame the people who earned that money, years later, in a clear attempt to mislead and engender hatred against public servants. 

I get no pension. I have never worked for the public sector. But I'm not a whiny little complainer. And I don't blame others for their choices. 

How old are you anyway? You remind me of myself---when I was 13, that is...

I_Go_Pogo
I_Go_Pogo

ummm, so he wouldn't be called a racist? heh!

GorditoMojito
GorditoMojito

YOU ARE BEING PLAYED.  Rahm and Barack have already set it up so that Obama can ride in from his busy campaign schedule to save the day.

We're supposed to believe that Rahm ("never let a crisis go to waist") is suddenly working against the people who power his base?  The Union's not only got what they wanted they got an extra week of pay without working.

Rules4FreeRadicals
Rules4FreeRadicals

I agree totally.  It is all massive orchestrated thuggery, with Barack Hussein riding in on his golf cart to show what a Great Leader he is by personally settling this little communist dog and pony show.

NO_MORE_DEMS
NO_MORE_DEMS

so funny watching Rahm have to oppose a union....especially a public one.....I read where 39% of chicago teachers send their kids to private school.....'nuf ced

Talendria
Talendria

I was a staunch supporter of public schools for many years, but I recently enrolled my son in a private school.  The difference is amazing.

pjean
pjean

You and 39% of Chicago's school teachers. At least you earned the right.

doubleturn
doubleturn like.author.displayName 1 Like

Did you make that up yourself or did Fox News make it up for you?

Rules4FreeRadicals
Rules4FreeRadicals

Really?  39% of Chicago teachers send their kids to private school like Rahm? I believe you, but do have a reference?

I wonder how many go to Charter Schools!

mfisch
mfisch

Public sector unions like the teacher's union have become greedy hogs gorging themselves at the public trough, earning better pay and benefits than the citizens they purportedly serve.

Public sector unions should NEVER have collective bargaining power or the ability to strike. Break them and crush them before it is too late.

John Smith
John Smith

Rahm, rase the taxes on rich.  That what your former boss wants to do nationwide, correct?  Increase the property taxes by 300% to pay off the CTU.  We need more good taxpayers in WI and IN.  I am sure IA will take some too.

Rules4FreeRadicals
Rules4FreeRadicals

Yeah, a massive, massive tax increase on the greedy Chicago kulaks!

What could possibly go wrong?

BeavertonSteve
BeavertonSteve

Half of these kids aren't being educated, they are just being locked up in classrooms to keep them off the streets until they are old enough to drop out of school.

Erick Weigold
Erick Weigold like.author.displayName 1 Like

There are also issues that everyone ignores - automatic promotion from grade to grade, students who refuse to try, a lack of real discipline in school, parents who are in complete denial of their children's behavior, grouping kids by age and grade rather than abilities and needs are amongst the many.  If a student can not read, write or show a grasp of math, they should not just be moved on to another teacher/class at a level that is even more difficult.  The cries, "holding back the student will scar them forever," are hiding the realities of the injuries that will occur when the child leaves the school system with a lack of skills and a bleak future.

Further, the ongoing "LIE," that all students need to head off to college needs to stop.  Blue collar learning needs to be brought back as there are many jobs unfilled because of a lack of qualified applicants.  And, if a child chooses not to work in academics, they need to get a taste of other work - such as cleaning around the school. 

pjean
pjean

Perfect minds for molding.

Talendria
Talendria

Agreed.  I don't understand why people are so eager to drop $100k on a college diploma when their children have no career plan.  It's a total waste of money.  Many kids are better suited to trades, which are often very lucrative.

Paul from SA
Paul from SA

I need a list of all their wages, salaries and benefits and the total number of hours worked per year.  Then I can make a judgement.

I think they should be fired and replaced or they should take a pay cut.

We need to develop a new method to teach our kids without human teachers and without unions.

Charles Wesley Bird
Charles Wesley Bird

Not bad ideas but they need to read to use computer for robot training.......Unless(!) the robot talks and listens and hands out goodies!

John Smith
John Smith

Democrats will make unions out of robots....   Hopeless...

Nomad
Nomad

Silly you!

The ChicagObamaRahm plan will never work to give Obama his ChrisChristieMoment™ if the negotiations are public. Or at the least the con will be much more difficult to pull off.

Denis McCormick
Denis McCormick

Democrats love to have their cake and eat it too.  If we remember what happened in Wisconsin, the unions had a fit about "not having a voice at the table" during those negotiations.  At least those debates were out in the open in the halls of Congress.  However, when it comes to their negotiations, they keep everything hush-hush and all we find out is that the strike is over.  The liberal city papers tell us how great the deal is and how the "unions conceded" whatever.  They don't tell us the cost of the negotiations and we just have to accept it.

This article tells us how politicians also play "keep away" with the information.  The reason they do this is because most of the city officials are "owned and operated" by the unions.  They give tremendous money to their political campaigns in order to pass their agenda.  If they fail to do their bidding, they will find another Democratic liberal to do the job.

David
David

Fire all the teachers and hire ones who actually care about students.

superlogi
superlogi

Time to govern Rahm.  It will be interesting to see who you throw under the bus, the taxpayer or the union.  Either way, it will be fun to watch.

johnr22
johnr22

Yes, it's fund to watch democrats get devoured by the monster they've created.

Also fund to watch Obama run and hide on this issue: he can't side with Rahm because the unions are too powerful, but he can't side with the unions because 80% of voters hate the union's guts.

Can a president vote "present"?

superlogi
superlogi

Yes, and from the golf course.  Being President is a kick, but doing the job is a real pain in the @amp;amp;.