I’m pro-labor. But facts are facts, and I prefer to go where they lead me. In the case of the current impasse in contract negotiations between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union, they lead me to believe that CTU is not bargaining in good faith. That will win me no friends in this town, but good journalists don’t have many friends. (More Chicago reporters should keep that in mind.)
Let’s look at the money issues at the heart of the holdup right now. As of Sunday night, CTU leaders told the public that their demands would cost the city $38 million more per year of a three-year contract than it is currently offering. But according to WBEZ, CPS Chief Operating Officer Arnie Rivera said the actual amount of money it would take to satisfy the union’s demands comes to closer to $100 million over a five-year contract.
Way back last Tuesday, CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov dug in on claims about money. Though she noted that both sides have valid claims about the numbers involved, her examples consistently showed CTU in the wrong!
For example, CTU continues to assert that CPS is now getting more money from the state, and that money should go to schools. The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability says CPS can expect about $1.7 billion in state dollars next year. But a CPS official said only about $60 million of it is new money, and that money is going toward schools. The truth is, a substantial amount of the state money that comes to CPS goes to shore up teacher pensions.
This CTU claim regarding new state funds has been debunked repeatedly, by the way.
Also from the CBS 2 report: “The union says CPS should refinance its debt, reducing high interest fees. A CPS official said it is refinancing debt when possible – most recently in September when it saved $20 million. But refinancing is limited because of CPS’ junk bond status.”
CPS has junk bond status, okay? It’s not like they have secret piles of money laying around, even if they aren’t spending the money they do have exactly the way you’d like, and they have bad contracts with companies like Aramark and people like Barbara Byrd-Bennett were screwing children by enriching themselves. The problem is even bigger than all that!
Everything You Think about Lincoln Yards Is Wrong
Last week, the mayor declared the largest TIF surplus in history (the city’s, but maybe even the world’s!)—of $300 million–and is sending just over half that money to CPS.
But a reminder, something which can’t be said enough: The city can’t just take back the $1.2 billion in TIF subsidies it has awarded the Lincoln Yards developers and spend the money on schools instead. This might be the most oft-repeated, ignorant take on the strike. That’s because the $1.2 billion doesn’t exist yet.
The city didn’t just write a check to Lincoln Yards. That $1.2 billion is money that will (theoretically) accrue over the 23-year term of the TIF in the form of increased tax revenues from the economic development the project will (theoretically) create. The problem as far as the schools go is that that money will be directed back into the TIF district – where some of it could be spent on schools there, though probably only on the physical plants – instead of going into the general fund for the city to spend wherever it chooses. Additionally, the share of property tax dollars the schools get from the district will be frozen at its current rate – though, as I understand it, more money will go to schools because the rate will have more dollars to tax.
The Fight for Justice Is Bigger Than CTU’s Employment Contract
The city isn’t a corporation—it’s not holding money for shareholders and stiffing workers. CPS has been a mess for decades, if not forever. Though a new state funding formula is helping, Illinois continues to fail to meet its constitutional duty to contribute “the primary share of funding” for public schools. Political hacks – from the Machine, now led by the CTU’s preferred mayoral candidate – have created the situation we are in.
CPS should be fully-funded first, with everything else to follow. The city budget should fund services for the neediest first, and then for everyone else.
Then think about this: CTU’s employment contract isn’t the only vehicle for social justice and equity in the city. The city has its own budgets for homelessness, mental health services, affordable housing – all the things the CTU says it is bargaining “for the common good.” Maybe a better approach is to engage with city departments and the city council and everybody else on those issues separately to always integrate schools into the conversation (the CTU says it does this very thing; not very well, apparently).
The wealthy should absolutely pay more – but pointing out how rich “the city” is in defense of the argument that “the money is there” doesn’t help, because “the city” is not “the City.” I’ve long been in favor of “turning the budget upside down.” But it takes a helluva lot more than an employment contract to do that, and in fact, biting off a piece for yourself without regard for the big picture doesn’t help. CTU’s employment contract isn’t the end-all, be-all.
Stop Fighting with Your Friends!
Maybe this is an unprecedented opportunity to build allyship, particularly with a friendly school board. Which CTU is currently doing its best to squander.
“But the CTU’s job isn’t to see the big picture, it’s to advocate zealously for its membership!”
Then don’t tell me you’re bargaining for the common good. That whole discussion is just dishonest as hell.
Sadly, the CTU has been hostile to Lightfoot from day one; it’s like the campaign never stopped. And to think their candidate partied with Ed Burke and would’ve kept Carrie Austin as the city council’s budget chair. And perhaps would’ve offered the union less, counting on their shared interest in making her mayoralty a success.
When writers in town accuse the CTU leadership of striking at least in part out of campaign bitterness and a bid to re-attain relevance, that isn’t to say that teachers too are striking for that reason. Some are, some aren’t. In its e-mails to members, the CTU is hitting hard on the theme that progress in negotiations have come only because of the strike. You can believe that if you want, but that doesn’t make it true. Be as suspect about your union leaders as you are about city leaders.
The fact is that everyone, for once, is on the same side here, but the CTU has utterly refused to move on from its hostile, disingenuous campaign stance and has thrust its members into full conflict mode. Just consider that this strike has now lasted longer than the 2012 strike against Rahm Emanuel – who, unlike Lightfoot, was diametrically opposed to everything CTU stood for. How in the world could that be?
Take the win and get the kids back in school.