Who Won The Teachers Strike?

Chicago teachers were on strike from October 17 through Halloween.

So, who won the battle? The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) supported Toni Preckwinkle in the 2018 mayoral election. Preckwinkle lost and that means the CTU lost. So, the new lady mayor was in a war with the union. The strike, in the first place, was not necessary.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (left), CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates (center) and CTU President Jesse Sharkey.

New Mayor Lori Lightfoot gave the teachers an historical win with a 16 percent pay increase over the next five years, making Chicago teachers among the highest paid in the country. Bravo.

But that’s not enough for the union that lost the mayoral election. This strike was revenge politics and might have been led by Preckwinkle’s hidden glove as she balanced the Cook County budget, with ease.

When she was in the tight spot of increasing revenues for the county, Toni taxed grocery bags and sweetened beverages, earning her the nickname “Queen Sugar.” Hard lessons learned as to what the public will and will not respond to.

Since she balanced the budget so easily, guess we didn’t need that outrageous soft drink tax at all. But now we go to the grocer armed with our own bags so as not to pay for their plastic or paper ones.

Cook County Board President Toni Prickwinkle has balanced her budget (without the sugar tax).

The mayor just announced her 2020 budget, maybe prematurely. She did not raise real estate taxes as everyone took a deep breath. The teachers union was relentless as they fought for the school children that they used as pawns. They wanted more, they wanted blood, and they wanted to show Lori who the boss was.

They had dragnet negotiations with protest-filled streets, union strong marching in downtown wearing red. The strike lasted 14 days (including 11 school days), from October 17 to the snowy day of Halloween, October 31.

The union made Lightfoot pay for the sins of former mayors, mostly Rahm Emanuel. He was challenged by the public schools and closed 50 of them at one time – the most in American history – and he was challenged by poor picks for school superintendent.

Under Rahm’s watch, we even had a school superintendent land in jail. He got it right at the end, though, with current Chief Executive Officer Dr. Janice Jackson. But where was the union to fight Rahm when he closed the schools? Seems like we have been fighting to get the schools right for the past 40 years.

CPS Chief Executive Officer Dr. Janice Jackson

Lightfoot didn’t have the money in the city budget to give the teachers everything they wanted, including social workers, librarians and nurses in each school. The new contract with all of its bells and whistles comes to $1.5 billion and the question is where are those dollars coming from?

The teachers challenged the mayor for TIF dollars, mostly from the Lincoln Yards project on the North Side. But Lincoln Yards was not Lori’s deal; it belongs to Mayor Rahim Emanuel.

Will more schools close? It has been reported that some schools have as few as a few hundred students when there should be thousands in attendance. Will these schools be condensed with more closings? Do schools really need librarians in the age of Google?

Could you not work out medical assistance for schools with the major medical centers and urgent care? The teachers stretched their reach when they brought up housing to add to the contract negotiations; it seemed like they wanted to solve all of Chicago’s social ills in one new contract.

I will be the first to tell you that teachers are overworked and underpaid and teachers have to be so much more than just teachers at this time. Teachers are surrogate parents, social workers, and then some.

Children attend school these days faced with gun violence and too often classmates being shot in the streets. This is traumatic for the entire school and social workers are indeed required just to cope.

Was It About The Students?

The teachers got what they wanted, but I still suggest that it wasn’t about education. It was about raw power. They punished the mayor for winning the election in which they opposed her.

The sport teams, where scouts visit and scholarships are awarded, were not allowed to play their games because the teachers were striking. The kids missed school and at the very last minute, the strike ended, not because of the kids, but because another day would have cost the teachers their medical benefits.

The mayor might have been hard nosed, if she was trying to be hard nosed, and let the strike continue until Monday and let the medical benefits cease, which would have caused total chaos for teachers as the first of the month approached when mortgages and car notes are due.

But Lori caved for the sake of, for the goodness of, the children. The strike should not have happened in the first place. The unions spoke loud and clear to Lightfoot, setting the pace and path for the upcoming union negotiations with the police and fire fighters.

Good example, bad example, as the unions collectively raise dollars in the budget, looking for money that the city doesn’t have. People are moving from Chicago because it has become quite an expensive place and are taxed to the gills. People are not leaving because of race; they are leaving due to the high cost of living and safety.

The mayor at a budget town hall meeting. Where will the money come from to pay for the teachers’ new contract?

As Lightfoot pays for the sins of others, she falls into the budget trap – that is, give the strikers what they want and worry about paying later with money you didn’t have in the first place. What is the alternative, but to raise property taxes to pay for the teachers and social workers and nurses and librarians?

Running a campaign is one thing, running a government is quite another. Mayor Lightfoot was blindsided by Emanuel. She thought the city’s debt was one thing when it was significantly more. He left her a billion dollar debt.

It is the game of politics. The old administration leaves the new administration holding the bag and the new administration does not speak badly of the previous administration. Really?

Lori should set the blame where it really lies, in Rahm’s lap, as he plays political pundit on Sunday mornings.

Chicago’s Chance The Rapper wore a CTU t-shirt in solidarity with the teachers when he hosted “Saturday Night Live”.

So, what we got from the teachers union strike is more debt and we pray the schools get better and the teachers teach better as they return to the classrooms better equipped.

As a resident of Chicago, with no children in school, I want to protest as to why pay all of these taxes for the schools? Perhaps taxes should be looked at with a new vision, at different rates for parents, teachers, and non-parents and non-teachers. Perhaps there should be a small tuition.

Oh well, a new day is here and the optics suggest the union was the winner, even to the end, when union President Jesse Sharkey insulted the mayor by not standing with her in a press conference in City Hall to announce the strike was over.

CTU’s Sharkey and Gates hugged it out when the strike ended. Might one of them run for mayor next time around?

What the strike was really about is the next mayoral election in 2023. Watch for CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates or President Jesse Sharkey to be candidates.

Stay woke.

Hermene Hartman

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