News & Politics » Ben Joravsky on Politics

What’s changed—and what hasn’t—since the last teachers’ strike

The rhetoric is less divisive, but the mayor's dirty tricks are the same.

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More than four years have passed since Chicago's last teachers' strike, but in many ways it seems as if time has stood still, what with teachers recently voting to authorize another strike as soon as October 11.

OK, some things have changed: Mayor Rahm Emanuel's chief educational appointees during the last strike, Jean-Claude Brizard and Barbara Byrd-Bennett, have left the scene (the latter to eventually serve some prison time).

But unfortunately, when it comes to the mayor's lousy relationship with teachers, so much remains the same: Emanuel is still irritating the hell out of 'em with his fabrications about contract negotiations, his charter school allies are once again attempting to exploit the turmoil to lure students away from neighborhood schools, and we still have Republicans on the national scene looking to make hay out of the showdown during a heated presidential race.

And, of course, then as now, the mayor has the money for labor peace hidden in his TIF treasure chest—money he doesn't want to spend, at least not on teachers.

Now that I'm sufficiently depressed about the state of things, let's break them down, starting with the mayor's fabrication.

Emanuel says he's offering teachers a 13 percent pay raise. He says it so often he almost sounds convincing.

Think again, folks!

The mayor's proposed giving teachers about 8.75 percent in cost-of-living increases over the four years of the contract, which would go through 2019. He's also offered "step" and "lane" increases.

A "step" is a raise a teacher gets for having survived another year in the system—though I don't think anyone phrases it quite that way. A "lane" is a pay hike a teacher gets for receiving more training.

If you add the cost of living raises to the step and lane hikes, then, yes, the mayor's offering teachers a 13 percent raise.

But that doesn't take into consideration what the mayor's taking away from teachers. Emanuel neglects to mention this when he talks about how he's offering the teachers such a great deal.

Counterbalancing these raises is the mayor's proposal to have teachers make a greater contribution to their pension and health care plans.

To explain, let's say that a hypothetical teacher in this scenario makes $100,000—hardly any do, but let's use that nice round number just to keep the math simple. Under the current contract, Chicago Public Schools contributes the equivalent of 7 percent of that teacher's salary to the general teacher's pension fund, while that teacher contributes 2 percent of his or her salary. For CPS, that means the real cost of the teacher is $107,000. And for the teacher, that means his or her gross pay is $98,000.

Under the mayor's proposal, the teacher would pay the full 9 percent pension contribution. Thus the teacher in our example would have a gross pay of $91,000, and the mayor would have an extra $9,000 to play around with. (Maybe he could use it to build a basketball arena for Loyola—you know, to match the one he's building for DePaul.) The point is, when you subtract what the mayor wants to take from what he's offering to give, it's clear that he's not actually extending a 13 percent raise, if by that we take to mean a paycheck that would be 13 percent higher at the end of the contract than it is now.

I think we'd all agree that's how most people would define a raise.

In fact, some older teachers—who've already tapped out on their step and lane hikes—face the prospect of a pay cut under Emanuel's contract proposal.

Now you know why teachers laugh derisively when you ask them about the mayor's supposed pay hike.

It's not much better for charter school teachers. As I write this, teachers in the UNO Charter School Network are locked in their own heated contract negotiation. Which is ironic. Four years ago, during the last strike, UNO's then-CEO, Juan Rangel, held a press conference to remind everyone that his teachers weren't on strike. He invited parents, fed up with CPS labor strife, to enroll their kids at UNO.

Like Brizard and Bennett, Rangel's long gone from the scene—he resigned in 2013 after a contracting scandal. Soon thereafter the teachers at UNO joined a union. And—more irony—their lawyer in these contract negotiations is Robert Bloch. That's the same lawyer representing the Chicago Teachers Union in its talks with CPS.

So Bloch spends his days running from one heated negotiation to the other. That dude may be the hardest-working labor lawyer around.

Taking a page from Rangel, the operators of the Noble Network of Charter Schools recently mailed a batch of postcards to public school students throughout the city, inviting them to stop on by and visit their nearest Noble campus. The recruitment post cards were addressed to the children—not the parents. Now many parents want to know how Noble got their kids' names and addresses. Noble hasn't said, and CPS officials say the matter has been turned over to the inspector general.

Charter school boosters used to brag of waiting lists filled with thousands of kids begging to get in. But if charters are still desperate to recruit from the ranks of CPS, it looks like those waiting lists are about as real as Emanuel's 13 percent raise.

Meanwhile we have as a backdrop the madness that is this presidential election.

Back in 2012 I lost a bunch of bets with teachers after I insisted that President Obama would pressure Rahm into cutting a deal with CTU president Karen Lewis, so as to avoid a hometown headache on the eve of his old buddy's re-election battle with Mitt Romney.

This time around the only bet I'm making is that Donald Trump will make a big deal out of any teachers' strike in Chicago, what with Emanuel being a former aide in Bill Clinton's White House and all.

Now it's Hillary Clinton's turn to get on the horn to talk some sense into Emanuel, her old friend and ally, if for no other reason than to help her campaign.

If the mayor protests, Madam Secretary, feel free to remind him of the hundreds of millions of dollars he's got in his TIF piggy bank. He won't listen to the teachers—or to me for that matter—but maybe he'll hear you out.   v


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