Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

The Evil Empire Strikes Back

November 20, 2012

Even when reform passes, teachers unions engage in massive resistance.

Education reformers had good news at the ballot box this month as voters in Washington and Georgia approved measures to create new charter schools. But as the reform movement gathers momentum, teachers unions are giving no quarter in their massive resistance against states trying to shake up failing public education.

In Georgia, 59% of voters approved a constitutional amendment that creates a new statewide commission to approve charter schools turned down by union-allied school boards. Instead of absorbing the message, charter opponents are planning to sue. The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus said last week it will join a lawsuit against Governor Nathan Deal to block the change. According to Caucus Chairman Emanuel Jones, because the ballot measure’s text didn’t discuss the details of how the schools were selected, “people didn’t know what they were voting for.”

This is the legal equivalent of sending back a hamburger because you didn’t know it came with meat. Georgia voters rallied around the charters because they want something better for their children than the dismal status quo. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that as of April only 67.4% of the state’s freshmen graduated from high school in four years. Last year a state investigation of Georgia schools found that dozens of public educators were falsifying test results to disguise student results.

A different battle is unfolding in Chicago, where the city’s teachers union is getting ready for its second showdown with Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel. In September, teachers went on strike and won a pay raise and limits on test scores in teacher evaluations. Now the union is fighting the city’s plan to close underused schools in an effort to consolidate resources.

Chicago Public Schools have some 600,000 seats but only 400,000 kids, while the district faces a $1 billion deficit next year and over $300 million of pension payments. Yet at a protest rally last week, Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey declared that the union was “serving notice to elected officials, if you close our schools, there will be no peace in the city.” Remind you of Selma, circa 1965?

The tension is especially acute for black parents whose children are trapped in the worst public schools. In other states, black organizations that march in lockstep with Democrats and their union allies have also been slow to catch up, but the message is getting louder. In Harlem last year, thousands of parents protested the NAACP’s role in a lawsuit to block school closings and the expansion of charter schools.

No reform effort is too small for the teachers union to squash. In this month’s election, the National Education Association descended from Washington to distant Idaho, spending millions to defeat a measure that limited collective bargaining for teachers and pegged a portion of teachers’ salaries to classroom performance. In Alabama, Republican Governor Robert Bentley says he’s giving up on his campaign to bring charter schools to the state after massive resistance from the Alabama Education Association.

Unions fight as hard as they do because they have one priority—preserving their jobs and increasing their pay and benefits. Students are merely their means to that end. Reforming public education is the civil rights issue of our era, and each year that passes without reform sacrifices thousands more children to union politics.

Now that the election is over, is it too much to ask that President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan drop their union coddling and speak truth to union power? Alas, it probably is.

A version of this article appeared November 19, 2012, on page A18 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Evil Empire Strikes Back

How Public Unions Became So Powerful

September 13, 2012

By 1970, nearly 20% of American workers were employed by government.

By PAUL MORENO
The Chicago teachers strike has put Democrats in a difficult position. Teacher unions are the most powerful constituency in the Democratic Party, but their interests are ever more clearly at odds with taxpayers and inner-city families. Chicago is reviving scenes from the last crisis of liberalism in the 1970s, when municipal unions drove many American cities to disorder and bankruptcy. Where did their power come from?

Before the 1950s, government-employee unions were almost inconceivable. When the Boston police unionized and went on strike in 1919, the ensuing chaos—rioting and looting—crippled the public-union idea. Massachusetts Gov. Calvin Coolidge became a national hero by breaking the strike, issuing the dictum: “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.” President Woodrow Wilson called the strike “an intolerable crime against civilization.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt also rejected government unionism. He told the head of the Federation of Federal Employees in 1937 that collective bargaining “cannot be transplanted into the public service. The very nature and purposes of government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer” because “the employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws.”

FDR pointed out the obvious, that the government is sovereign. If an organization can compel the government to do something, then that organization will be the real sovereign. Thus the National Labor Relations (Wagner) Act of 1935 gave private-sector unions the power to compel employers to bargain, but the act excluded government workers. It declared that federal and state and local governments were not “employers” under its terms.

Postwar prosperity and the great increase of public employment revived the public union idea. By 1970, nearly 20% of American workers worked for the government. (In 1900: 4%.) The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees led the effort to persuade a state to allow public-employee unionization, and Afscme prevailed in Wisconsin in 1958. New York City and other cities also permitted their workers to unionize.

President John F. Kennedy issued an executive order 50 years ago that broke the dam. The order did not permit federal employees to bargain over wages (these are still set by Congress), or to force workers to join a union or to strike (no state or city allowed that), but Kennedy’s directive did lead to unionization of the federal workforce. And it gave great impetus to more liberal state and local laws. Government-union membership rose tenfold in the 1960s.

Things soon got ugly. The Wagner Act had fomented labor militancy, notably sit-down strikes in 1937 that disrupted manufacturing and retarded the economy. But in the late 1960s and 1970s, federal and state union-promoting laws produced unprecedented strikes by teachers, garbage collectors, postal workers and others, even though every state prohibited strikes by public employees.

Afscme began to arouse resentment from other union federations—especially the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union. Afscme’s abrasive president, Jerry Wurf, became an easy target for his opponents. He was said to have advised Baltimore firefighters to “let Baltimore burn” if union demands were not met; Wurf was subsequently regarded as generally having a let-it-burn attitude.

In 1976 the Supreme Court derailed a movement to enact the National Public Employment Relations Law (“a Wagner Act for public employees,” as supporters described it) led by Rep. William Clay of Missouri. The court held that Congress could not apply federal labor laws to state employees. The justices stated the obvious, that “the States as states stand on a quite different footing from an individual or a corporation.”

By the end of the 1970s, the budgetary burdens imposed by public unions had helped revive conservative movements, leading to the elections of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and Ronald Reagan in 1980. Undeterred, William Clay told the Professional Air Traffic Controllers at Patco’s 1980 convention to “revise your political thinking. It should start with the premise that you have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just permanent interests. It must be selfish and pragmatic.” He told them to “learn the rules of the game,” which were “that you don’t put the interest of any other group ahead of your own. What’s good for the federal employees must be interpreted as being good for the nation.” The take-no-prisoners message helps explain why President Reagan fired and replaced the striking controllers, and why the public overwhelmingly supported him.

Historians tend to depict the Patco strike as a replay of the 1919 Boston police strike, with Reagan as the new Coolidge. But breaking the Patco strike had zero impact on public unionism. It may have cooled the willingness to strike, but unions continued to flourish. Public employment and government unionism have grown more than the population since 1980. The Patco replacements soon joined the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and carried on Patco’s work.

Nor did the breaking of the strike “send a signal” to private employers to take a hard line against their unions, as some historians of the time have suggested. The factors responsible for private-union decline antedated the Patco strike and continued after it. Reagan ultimately may have even helped the public-employee union movement: By stoking the nation’s economic revival in the 1980s, he made the costs of public unions begin to seem less onerous, and polls suggested that American worries about the matter declined.

Public unions do well in flush times like the 1950s and 1960s, but they suffer when taxpayers feel their true cost, as in the 1970s—and today.

Mr. Moreno, a professor of history at Hillsdale College, is the author of “The American State from the Civil War to the New Deal,” forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.

A version of this article appeared September 12, 2012, on page A15 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: How Public Unions Became So Powerful.

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Another “Demonstration” That Union Bosses Don’t Care About Kids

September 12, 2012

Chicago’s Teaching Moment

Can Mayor Rahm hold out against the union? Calling Mr. Obama.

Has Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel met Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker? If he hasn’t, we’d be glad to mediate a call. Chicago teachers went on strike Monday for the first time in 25 years, and Mr. Emanuel can help the cause of education reform nationwide if he shows some Walker-like gumption.

On Sunday night, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis promised that her 25,000 members would walk the picket line until they have a “fair contract,” and she called the battle an “education justice fight.” Nice to know they’re thinking of the kids at the start of the school year.

Related Video

Senior editorial writer Collin Levy on the Chicago on the Chicago teachers’ strike. Photo Credit: Associate Press.

Middle-class parents and two-earner households scrambling for child care may not sympathize. According to the union’s own figures, the average Chicago public school teacher makes $71,000 a year in salary, and that’s before pensions and benefits generally worth $15,000 or more a year. Senior teachers make much more. That’s not a bad deal compared to the median household income of $47,000 for a Chicago worker in the private economy.

Ditto working conditions. Union leaders have bellyached mightily about Mr. Emanuel’s decision last year to extend the Chicago school day to seven hours from five hours and 45 minutes (the shortest among the country’s 10 biggest cities). The longer hours are one reason the union says teachers need a 29% pay raise over two years. The average Chicago teacher works 1,039 instructional hours per year—roughly half the time logged by the average 40-hour-a-week working Joe.

When Mr. Emanuel came to office last year, the Chicago Public Schools were already facing a $700 million deficit. Over the next three fiscal years amid mounting salaries and pensions, the Chicago system will be $3 billion in the red. Mr. Emanuel’s negotiators still offered a 16% pay raise over four years, but the union walked away.
There’s a case for no raise considering that Chicago’s schools are among the worst in the country, with a graduation rate around 55%. A 2006 study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research found that for every 100 Chicago public high school freshmen, only six get four-year college degrees. Among African-American and Hispanic boys, the number is three of 100.
Another issue is accountability, with Mr. Emanuel seeking a new teacher evaluation program that includes student test scores as a significant factor. The union wants student scores to play a minor role. The union also wants laid-off teachers to be hired back first if school principals have new job openings. Chicago may close up to 100 failing schools in coming years, and if principals have to dip into that layoff pool to hire even lousy teachers, students will suffer.

Under state law, teachers can strike over wages but not over policies set by the Chicago Board of Education. So the strike is also illegal.

The Chicago brawl is notable because it shows the rift between teachers unions and some Democrats. Unions have long had Democrats in their hip pocket, but more office holders are figuring out that this threatens taxpayers and is immoral to boot.

Perhaps Mr. Emanuel should ask his former boss, President Obama, for a good public word. Recall how eager Mr. Obama was to speak against Mr. Walker’s collective-bargaining reforms, at least until the Republican looked like he’d win his recall election.

The Chicago stakes are nearly as high. The chance for major school reform comes rarely, and if Mr. Emanuel gets rolled in his first big union showdown, he’ll hurt 350,000 Chicago students and the reputation he’s hoping to build as a reformer.

A version of this article appeared September 11, 2012, on page A12 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Chicago’s Teaching Moment.

 Copyright 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved