Let’s get one thing straight here: the main reason for most unions’ existence is to get their lawmakers elected, so those lawmakers can kick back more collective bargaining power and infinite benefits at the expense of taxpayers.
They typically buy off Democratic office seekers and have been doing so for decades, while the powers that be in the Democratic Party have been totally complicit in the bargain so long as it brought them enough votes to stay in power.
But what happens when the corrupt bargains get so out of control that it drives your city or state into bankruptcy?
That’s what Democratic leaders in Illinois are now being faced with. For the first time in my lifetime, union greed has pushed them to start campaigning against Democrats too, now.
In Chicago, President Barack Obama’s former chief-of-staff and current Mayor Rahm Emanuel now finds himself at the receiving end of a woman’s scorn – Chicago Teacher’s Union (CTU) boss Karen Lewis.
Lewis recently announced a series of steps to intensify the CTU’s political activity, all named at backing unnamed candidates for “mayor, City Council and statewide offices.”
Specifically, she said the CTU, with allies, will seek to register 100,000 new voters, and host candidate training. The union will also boost donations to its political action committee and step up its canvassing operations to “get disaffected voters to the polls.”
You might be thinking, “What? Against Rahm Emanuel? The same Democrat who managed Obama’s White House for its first two years? Why the heck would the unions be pissed at him?”
Most will probably remember the CTU strike that got nationwide attention last fall. When Emanuel succeeded long-time Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley two years ago, one of his most ambitious reforms was trying to extend the Chicago Public School (CPS) day. Until recently, the CPS day was a mere 5 hours and 45 minutes – ranking last among the 10 largest cities in the U.S.
Emanuel argued that the city was unfairly shortchanging CPS students in instructional time, resulting in fewer future opportunities for them. He proposed extending the elementary school day to 7 hours and 30 minutes.
The CTU, in turn, then demanded a 30% salary raise. Keep in mind that CPS is a system where the average salary for teachers was $76,450 a year, compared to the $53,976 made by the average private sector employee, where their graduation rate is barely half (55%), and where only six out of every 100 children in a system responsible for over 400,000 children will go on to earn a bachelor’s degree by the time they are 26-years-old. A 30% raise would’ve brought the average median salary to around $100,000 for a profession that works 170 days out of the year.
Meanwhile, the CPS system was facing a budget deficit of $665 million in the $5.73 billion 2012-2013 fiscal year. To close it, Emanuel had to raise property taxes, cut costs anywhere possible, and completely drain all the CPS’s cash reserves.
Emanuel even scaled back his longer school day proposal from 7 and a half hours to just 7 hours in an effort to negotiate, but CTU boss Karen Lewis wouldn’t budge. So instead, Emanuel decided to hire an additional 477 teachers to fill in the longer school day with programs that are always on the chopping block such as music, art, foreign language, and physical education, which delivered students a longer school day without requiring CPS teachers to work longer hours.
Basically, there was no money left. Yet not only did the CTU not back down from its salary raise demands, but they were also demanding unprecedented administrative powers that are traditionally reserved for the CPS, including managerial rights, job security guarantees, and a scaling back of teachers evaluations based on standardized test scores.
Ultimately, Emanuel caved. Not only were teacher evaluations kept based on a checklist rather than standardized test scores, but CTU teachers also received a 17.6% raise – bringing their total average salary to $89,900 today.
If Emanuel had trouble facing a $665 million CPS budget deficit last year, he was really in for a shock when he realized he had to find a way to close a $1 billion CPS budget deficit for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. What was left? Property taxes have been raised to their highest legal limit (not to mention Chicago already leads in the nation in highest sales and gas taxes), the CPS’s cash reserves were completely drained and he has a 17.6% raise he agreed to deliver CTU teachers.
Only one thing left to do in that case: cut spending. Emanuel then decided to shut down the 54 worst performing schools in the CPS system. Let’s be honest here, is the main mission of public schools to be a job factory to keep as many good and bad teachers employed? Or is it to educate and prepare children for higher education (of which the CPS is horribly failing at)?
Either way, he might as well have changed his name to George Wallace in the eyes of the CTU, because according to Lewis, Emanuel is a “racist, classist liar.”
You read that right, the same man who worked for the first African-American president as his chief-of-staff is apparently now a “racist.”
Oh, and he’s a “murderer” too, according to Lewis.
He’s all those things, despite the fact that he gave CTU teachers a 17.6% raise, hired 477 more teachers to both keep music, art, foreign language, and physical education alive and to extend the school day without extending teachers’ hours, and scaled back teacher evaluations based on standardized test scores.
I don’t know how else to describe this save for two words: union greed.
But hey, it’s all for the kids, right?
Meanwhile, in the state capital of Springfield (where Democrats have monopolized control for the last decade), out of control public pension costs have long been drowning Illinois families in red ink. Years of inaction on pension reform has led to $100 billion in debt ($200 billion by some estimates), ranking Illinois as the worst funded pension system in the U.S. according to the Pew Research Center.
Illinois also owes $43.8 billion more than the net value of all its assets combined, leaving us with the worst deficit in the nation, again due largely to public pension costs according to the state’s Auditor General. This has resulted in Illinois seeing its credit rating cut repeatedly by all major credit rating agencies, ranking us … you guessed it, dead last in the nation.
In an effort to stop the state from drowning in pension debt, Democrats passed the largest tax hike in Illinois history: a 67% increase on all income earners and 46% increase on all businesses – all of which went to our pension system and still wasn’t enough to cover last year’s pension deficit, let alone any of Illinois’ $9 billion backlog in outstanding bills. The tax hike also reversed a trend of job creation as Illinois slowly began to recover after the recession, leading Illinois to the second highest unemployment rate in the nation (behind only Nevada).
Again, what was left to do? Taxes were already raised on hard-working families and the extra revenue didn’t even put a dent into solving the pension problem.
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan – who’s been Speaker for the last 30 years and is also the state Democratic Party Chairman – held out from drawing the ire of a core constituency of his party for as long as he could. Understandably so, as Gov. Pat Quinn has been hounded by unions for the last year for even entertaining the very thought of altering pension benefits. They even chased Quinn all the way to Charlotte to harass him at the Democratic National Convention.
But seeing a political opportunity to get a major polarizing issue off the table for his daughter – Attorney General Lisa Madigan – who’s gearing up for a gubernatorial run in 2014, Madigan finally twisted enough arms to get a pension reform bill through the House (by a vote of 62-51 with two “present”) that would reduce automatic annual raises for retirees, requires recipients to pay more for their own benefits and raises the retirement age to 67 for state workers under 45.
The bill now awaits a vote in the Democratic-controlled Illinois Senate, but even if it gets passed there and Quinn signs it into law, the unions are up in arms over this bill and promising to challenge it all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court. We Are One Illinois – a coalition of public sector unions which include the AFL-CIO, IEA and AFSCME – went so far as to call this bill an “illegal approach to slashing hard-earned life savings protected by the Illinois Constitution.” Public sector unions have deep pockets and are lawyered up the wazoo, as we’re constantly reminded of in Wisconsin where they’re still trying to overturn Gov. Scott Walker’s reforms.
So it’s now gotten to a point where even the unions are campaigning against Democrats. Their message is loud and clear: we own you. Even long time Chicago Machine veterans such as Emanuel and Madigan now find themselves having to make the tough choices against their own supporters out of sheer financial necessity.
Only it may be too little, too late for Illinois at this juncture.