by Paul Kersey
Director of Labor Policy
The Chicago Teachers Union filed a 10-day strike notice Wednesday, which may tempt some Chicagoans to overreact. To some extent the teachers union is counting on this sort of reaction. They are hoping that upset parents will call on the school board to end the strike at all costs, and pressure the district into making concessions it otherwise would not make.
If there is one piece of advice I could give to parents, it would be to remain calm and keep their eyes on the big picture:
- While a teacher strike is something to be avoided, it should not be treated as a larger problem than it is. If teachers do in fact walk, the main effect will be that schoolchildren will not be in school for a while. Something similar happens every summer and during school vacations.
- Class time lost to a strike can be made up. If school is canceled for more than a few days the district can and should insist that additional school days be tacked on at the end of the school year.
- Chicagoans in particular should expect government employee strikes. Unfortunately, Illinois law encourages the creation of strong unions in government, including the public schools. The law specifically allows for strikes. It is in the nature of unions to call strikes on occasion, both to demonstrate solidarity and to increase pressure for concessions.
- If parents really are concerned about public school strikes, at some point they need to ask if we should be giving government unions the broad powers that we give them.
- The issues at stake here are important. Many of the issues that the CPS Board is pursuing, such as a strong teacher evaluation process and merit pay for teachers, have real potential to improve education in the district.
- CTU is resisting these changes, and insisting on pay raises at a time when the district’s finances are extremely shaky. The district expects to drain its reserve funds this coming school year and is facing a possible $1 billion shortfall the year after that.
- A bad contract will last a lot longer and could do a lot more damage to students than any strike itself will.
The fact that CTU is willing to threaten a strike at this time does not reflect well on the union’s leadership or their priorities. Chicago’s children should not be used as pawns like this.
But if the union does indeed walk out, it will be essential that parents and school officials make the best of the situation. When the strike is settled, the new contract should be one that improves education. Parents understandably will want a speedy resolution, but speed should take a back seat to quality education for their children.
That is the message they should communicate to the mayor and school board.