When lightning strikes, typically the surface it strikes is the underdog. Well, the same is to be said when teacher unions’ strike. In Chicago, the teachers strike and the surface they hit are the children.
Chicago has the third largest public school system in the United States and its teachers went on strike for salary increases (15 percent to be exact), enforceable caps on class sizes, and a written commitment for more nurses, social workers, and librarians.
They also struck for more affordable housing, which is far outside the parameters of collective bargaining on a teacher’s contract. But hey, why limit yourself to educational issues?
Even more of a head scratcher? The mayor, Lori Lightfoot, a progressive Democrat, had put forwards what she rightfully described as a “historic offer.” The district offered a 16 percent increase over five years and a roughly 8 percent increase for paraprofessionals for this school year. They also agreed to fund decreasing class sizes and pledged to put a full time nurse in every school by 2024 while adding 200 more social workers over five years.
The generous offer did not satisfy the teacher union, and while the strike continued, 300,000 students were not in school, many of whom come from low income families. The district mentioned that the schools would remain open for the students for a safe place and access to meals, which is all fine and dandy. However, all instruction was canceled. Of the 300,000 students, only 7,500 showed up to school on the first day of the strike.
Reported by the Chicago Tribune: “The Illinois High School Association ruled Monday that Chicago Public Schools girls’ volleyball teams will have to forfeit their playoff games, ending their season prematurely, because of the teachers’ strike. The playoffs were scheduled to start Monday. Student-athletes in other sports such as cross-country, tennis and golf previously suffered the same fate.”
Of course, the union will argue that, as Mayor Lightfoot puts it “taking your deal is a betrayal of our professional ethics; it would be a betrayal to our students and to the parents.” But this has never been the case. They are back to playing the classic bait-and-switch game once again – protecting their self-interests while arguing “It’s for the children!”
Don Nielsen, program chair to Discovery Institute’s American Center for Transforming Education and author of Every School, reminds us of a fundamental truth: “the mission of [a] union [is] to maximize member compensation, improve member working conditions, [and] to secure and protect member employment.” This isn’t just Nielsen’s opinion. It comes from a conversation he had with the WEA president years ago.
As the strike went on for almost two weeks, children have lost out on valuable education time they won’t get back. The losses include, but are not limited to, social and emotional learning, collaborative thinking, and bonding with their peers through sports or other extracurricular activities. Strikes are sending a thundering message that teacher unions are willing to hurt parents and children to achieve their ends. This is wrong.