Director of Labor Policy
The holidays are over and kids have been back in school for weeks. But students in Grayslake District 46 are back at home now that teachers are on strike, and odds are that teachers in West Chicago District 33 will follow suit next week. Negotiations remain contentious in Barrington, Champaign and Huntley districts as well. As the Chicago Tribune noted, teachers on picket lines are becoming “a familiar scene,” with the Chicago area enduring six strikes so far this school year.
There’s a simple reason for all the ill will and disruption created by teacher strikes: they work, at least for teacher unions. The trigger, of course, was the Chicago Teachers Union, or CTU, strike in September, during which CTU shut down public schools for seven days and won sizeable raises and watered down performance evaluations. The raises are unaffordable – Chicago Public Schools are already looking to close down facilities to make up for budget deficits. And a district that has been struggling academically should have stronger, not weaker, evaluations. CTU’s strike was a victory for unions – and success breeds imitation.
In the midst of all this, the question that Illinoisans should be asking is whether or not a private group, like a union, should be in a position to shut down vital public services unilaterally. However much one might sympathize with teachers, the purpose of a school district is to provide education, not to guarantee teachers will receive increasingly generous pay and benefits. It would be folly to shortchange teachers, but their desire for more pay and greater job security has to be balanced against the need for quality instruction and the burdens that taxes for public education place on the larger society. Teachers and their unions shouldn’t expect to win them all.
Unionized public employees already have something akin to a veto power over what should be policy decisions – putting union officials on par with elected officials. Giving government employees the power to strike only makes that veto power stronger. By contrast, neither taxpayers nor parents can shut a school district down if they are frustrated by the costs or quality of public schools. As long as that’s the case, government employee unions should not be able to call strikes either.