What Is Chicago All About?

News headlines are giving prime coverage to the Chicago School strike.  It was 25 years ago when Chicago teachers went on strike the last time.  I wonder why now?

Reports say the Teacher’s Union has been opposed to pay and benefit changes, proposed methods to rate teachers’ performance, and the School Boards demands for extended work days.  Seems like a reasonable list of grievances especially if it is a take it or leave it offer.  Still why strike now?

Across the country, cash strapped municipalities are intent upon trying to improve the quality of education while at the same time reducing the burden on tax payers.  There should be no surprise in Chicago that these measures have been implemented other places mainly because citizens would not pay more in taxes.  Is Chicago different?

Chicago teacher’s average pay is $76,000 per year.  Given the average US income of about $50,000, that sounds pretty good.  The School Board wants, however, to increase the teachers share of increased medical insurance costs.  Hmmm, the first light bulb goes on.

Most Americans think that employers “give” health care to their employees.  In fact, the portion of health care insurance paid by employers is really “unpaid wages” since the justification for employer involvement has been to retain good workers.  In the last 20 years, health care costs have soared and the insurance coverage has jumped in step with the per capita health care cost increases.  Chicago teachers are now staring the ugly American health care situation straight in the eyes.  Healthcare delivery in the US is broken and now the Chicago teachers are seeing it first hand.

Working conditions (longer hours and teacher rating) are also at issue.  Longer hours might have been acceptable if that were the only change.  Union mentality, however, has been dead against giving something for nothing.  But hours alone, would not have caused a strike.  Teacher rating is something else.

Unions of all stripes fear supervision’s assessment of worker’s performance.  All too often, these assessment vary from supervisor to supervisor and are frequently influenced by non-work related factors.  Unions have dug in on this and said no way.  All teachers are the same and only on some extreme cases can any teacher be removed.  Unions go further and say, if there needs to be a reduction in force, seniority will rule.  These are bedrock principles.

While the Union position is historically sound, mounting evidence shows that all teachers are not the same.  Some teach better than others.  Some produce better results.  So why shouldn’t the Union be interested in raising the capability level of all teachers instead of just saying no?

The “end run” of course are the Charter Schools.  Teachers in these schools typically receive less pay than public schools, teach longer days, and are routinely given performance ratings.  The implicit threat is that more public schools will be converted to Charter Schools unless teachers unions are more flexible.

Everyone in this labor process, (School Boards, Teachers Union, and the rank and file teachers), have an opportunity to take a big step forward.  They also have an opportunity to fight to regain the past.  Unfortunately times have changed and the past will not be good enough.

In any fight, the student is overlooked.  There are no needs for School Boards or Teachers Unions unless it is to educate.  We may never know why there is a strike now.  It is highly probable that the Chicago Teachers Union thought with elections just weeks away, they held their maximum leverage.  With recession still in force, the School Board felt they had the moral high ground.  Let’s rumble.

In my opinion, it makes no difference why there is a strike.  It is far more important that everyone wake up to the fact that the middle class is falling behind the top two percent everyday.  We need to grasp nationally how over priced our health care delivery system is and what that means to each American.  Health care costs are sucking money out of everyone but especially the middle class.  And lastly, paying for performance is what each of us naturally wants from those who deliver service to us.  Why not teachers….  and their Administrators… and the School Boards too?

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