More than 300,000 Chicago children are missing school today because their teachers’ union wants taxes to rise. Unfortunately, this is not an April Fools’ prank. The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is actually striking for higher taxes.
Chicago Public Schools (CPS) does not have a record of success. One-third of the district’s students fail to graduate. This happens despite the district paying some of the highest teacher salaries in America. Rising pension costs have now pushed the district into a major deficit. Teacher pension benefits have quintupled over the past 30 years — well over twice the inflation rate. The average career teacher in CPS can now expect over $2 million in lifetime retirement benefits.
To close this deficit, CPS offered the union major concessions. It offered to cap enrollment in (largely non-union) charter schools and relax teacher evaluation standards. In exchange, the district wanted educators to contribute more toward their pensions and health-care benefits.
The Chicago Teachers Union considered that unacceptable. It wants state legislators to raise taxes instead. So the union called the one-day strike to pressure them to do exactly that.
This shows why collective bargaining does not belong in government. Government unions pressure policymakers to make working for government more comfortable. That is their job. Of course, in a democracy, citizens often lobby their representatives for preferred policies. But collective bargaining enables government unions to go much further: They can shut down the government to get their way.
Consequently, voters’ elected representatives no longer have the final say. They must instead bargain — as equal partners — with government unions. Again and again, government unions block changes that voters support but the unions dislike.
Chicagoans elected Mayor Emmanuel on a platform of improving public schools. The 2012 teachers’ strike forced him to water down his education reforms. Illinois voters turfed former governor Pat Quinn after he hiked the state income tax. Now the CTU wants the legislature to raise taxes anyway.
In a democracy, no special-interest group should have such power. Why should CPS need to offer to curtail charter-school enrollment in order to adjust its benefit policies? Or negotiate over how rigorously to evaluate teachers?
The government exists to serve the public good. But collective bargaining forces government to put its own employees’ interests first. This April 1 Chicago’s students, parents, and taxpayers have learned just how foolish that is.