Tuesday, June 12, 2012

No “friends” among labor?

EMANUEL: Not making friends in educator circles
I know there probably is no real connection, but I couldn’t help but wonder if Mayor Rahm Emanuel considered a last-minute change to the five people he picked for his infrastructure trust – a body that is supposed to set priorities for repair projects such as mass transit and sewer.

For Emanuel included an organized labor official among his people who will have influence over the city’s maintenance – Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez.

HE MADE HIS announcement at roughly the same time that the Chicago Teachers Union was making it known that they took a massive “drop dead” vote toward the Chicago Public Schools leadership – which is merely taking its cue from Emanuel in the hard-line it is adopting toward contract negotiations.

“Drop dead.” How else would you describe a vote of 90 percent of teachers favoring a strike, and only 2 percent (1.82 percent, to be more precise) opposing the idea.

Considering that we have to go back to the days of Harold Washington as mayor to find a time when teachers actually walked off the job (for four weeks, back in 1987), it would seem that city and schools officials have done a thoroughly good job of ticking off their teachers to get them so overwhelmingly willing to take to a picket line.

Now I realize that just because the teachers voted to strike, that does not mean they will actually do so.

IT MERELY MEANS that the Chicago Teachers Union leadership can call for a strike at any time now, if they think that negotiations have reached an impasse. The teachers just gave them the authority to do so. I’ll give the example of a suburban high school district, Thornton 205 based in Harvey, where teachers took a strike authorization vote one day, and the school board voted to approve a new contract agreement the next.

Somehow, I doubt that will occur in Chicago. But let’s hope that educators and administrators all manage to act like adults and continue to try to strive toward serious negotiations. Anything’s possible.

Besides, the two sides have all summer and the early autumn to try to talk things down and reach a serious compromise somewhere between the 2 percent raise for next year that was the Chicago Public Schools’ initial offer, and the 29 percent that the teachers’ union initially asked for.

Although when one considers that it was 20 percent more pay for having to work 20 percent more hours and another 4 percent to compensate for a pay hike they had to give up, it seems they’re really asking for a 5 percent hike for the upcoming year.

SOMEHOW, THE DIFFERENCE between 5 and 2 doesn’t seem so great!

This is all about playing political hardball, and I’m sure on a certain level Emanuel would like it if he could claim a conquest of the Chicago Teachers Union among his first accomplishments in office.

Which is why the overwhelming strike authorization vote announced Monday shouldn’t be such a surprise. My guess is that union boss Karen Lewis is trying to show she has just as big a (ahem) as Emanuel.

Personally, I take the 90 percent support for a strike about as seriously as I do the idea of teachers doing 20 percent more work for only a 2 percent pay hike for the first year – and a pay freeze for the next couple of school years.

THEY’RE BOTH NONSENSE-TALK. Ridiculous rhetoric! Absolute arrogance, mixed in with a touch of pulp!

We’re in the second week of June. Which means there is still plenty of time for people to get serious. And I mean people on both sides of this equation.

Let’s only hope that they do, and that come September, Lewis’ rhetoric about “overpaid outside consultants” and “billionaire education dilettantes” will be long-forgotten because the two sides will have come together and made it possible for us to go a full quarter of a century without a Chicago schools strike.

That would be a serious accomplishment we as Chicagoans could take pride in.


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