News Story

How the Chicago Teacher Union Strike Affects Michigan

Michigan Ballot Proposal Could Nullify State's No Strike Law

Chicago teachers want 16 percent raises and are fighting accountability benchmarks.

The 26,000-member Chicago Teachers Union went on strike Monday, leaving nearly 400,000 students in the lurch.

Teacher strikes are illegal in Michigan, but they have happened in the past, most recently when Detroit Public Schools teachers walked out on students in 2006.

Paul Kersey, director of workforce policy at the Illinois Policy Institute, works at an office so close to where the striking Chicago teachers are marching that he said he could hear the protesters outside his window. Kersey, who formerly was director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said the strike is impossible to justify.

"These are teachers who have a great deal and they are striking because they refuse to make needed concessions,” Kersey said. "It's just breathtaking to watch. They are very well paid and their instructional time is just five and a quarter hours long — either the shortest or one of the shortest in the nation."

Teacher evaluations and a recall process for laid-off teachers are main sticking points between the union and the school district in Chicago.

"They teach for a school district that is projected to have a $1 billion deficit next year," Kersey said. "Only 60 percent of the students who go through the school district's high schools get a diploma. Yet, the union is refusing any reasonable process for teacher evaluation. The head of the union made an amazing statement the other day, saying that if they have this evaluation process, 6,000 teachers would lose their jobs. In other words, they just admitted the district has 6,000 bad teachers. I hope that's not the case.”

The Chicago Public Schools has the shortest school-year among the nation's 10 largest cities. In addition to its projected deficit, the school faces massive legacy costs for pensions. Its roughly 60 percent graduation rate compares poorly with the national average of 75 percent and far worse than the more than 90 percent graduation rates in some nearby Chicago suburbs.

More than 80 percent of CPS students qualify for free lunches.

Meanwhile, the district's teachers are among the highest paid in the nation, averaging $71,236 per year, not including benefits. The average annual earnings for Chicagoans is $48,866 a year.

Michael Van Beek, director of education policy for the Mackinac Center, said that Michigan voters should pay attention to what's happening in Chicago.

“In contrast to what’s happening in Chicago, Michigan recently passed reforms that create incentives for unions to come to table and bargain, and (it) empowered publicly elected school boards to create teacher accountability systems without having to deal with union obstructionism," Van Beek said. "Unfortunately, [Proposal 2] the union-backed 'Protect Our Jobs Amendment' puts these reforms at risk."

Proposal 2 will be on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Nick De Leeuw, spokesman for Citizens Protecting Michigan's Constitution, said what's taking place in Chicago could soon come to Michigan if Proposal 2 passes.

"The union bosses behind this deceptive proposal are telling parents it will not legalize teacher strikes, but what they don't tell parents is that it would eliminate the penalties that make the word 'illegal' mean anything," De Leeuw said in a news release, titled "Chicago-Style Teacher Strikes in Michigan?"

Citizens Protecting Michigan's Constitution, is the coalition opposing Proposal 2.


See also:

CapCon Coverage of Proposal 2: The 'Protect Our Jobs' Amendment

Commentary: What the 'Protect Our Jobs' Amendment Would Mean For Michigan