Being offered more money in exchange for working harder is a novel concept these days. Turning down a raise in exchange for a longer work day would be unthinkable to private sector employees who kept their jobs for less money during the downturn, while doing the extra work of laid-off coworkers.
Things work differently in the unionized public sector. Jobs are entitlements. Unions force decisions on what taxpayers will shell out in pay and benefits for members. They screech, threaten, and demand when depleted budgets come up too short to meet fixed in stone commitments. When union dominance was threatened in Wisconsin, teachers refused to show up for work, pandering politicians and our president pointed fingers, and the investment taxpayers made in public services was put at risk.
The mean salary for Illinois public elementary and secondary school teachers was $67,110 in 2010.¹ This is considerably less than the $150,000.00 benchmark set by ex-Chicagoan Arne Duncan (see: Will Taxpayers Support Raising Teacher Salaries 165%?), but elementary school teachers working in the Chicago public school system enjoy one of the shortest school days in the country. They were also offered a 2% raise in exchange for bringing the length of their school day and year in line with the rest of the country. Private sector employees would understand that any raise is a good deal, especially after budget problems made a scheduled 4% raise for teachers unaffordable. The private sector is flexible. The Chicago Teachers Union, however, deemed the proposal unacceptable. Public employee unions can be intractable.
Education Secretary Duncan has included unions in the policymaking process, portraying them as parties interested in the futures of our children. Union actions repudiate Duncan’s belief in “Advancing Student Achievement Through Labor-Management Collaboration.” Duncan told us that:
We have a collective responsibility to prepare our nation’s children to compete in the global economy and we cannot allow anything to stand in our way.²
He ponders further:
At a time of declining revenues, how do we continue to build momentum and create confidence in public education?
Collective bargaining, I firmly believe, is an underutilized tool to do exactly that — and that trusting and collaborative environments can foster the innovation we need.³
The teachers union’s rejection of the longer school day proposal was an eye-opening follow-up to the Wisconsin teacher no-show after that state made an effort to curtail collective bargaining for its employees. Illinois is broke. Governor Quinn is threatening mass public sector layoffs, while President Obama talked about “laying off teachers in droves” in his Thursday jobs speech. Any worker on the government payroll should be happy to stay employed, and should be even happier to be offered a raise instead of a pay cut or pink slip.
Teachers in four Chicago schools have rejected their union’s position, deciding to accept the longer school day in exchange for incentive pay. The proposal is a good deal for teachers, a good deal for kids, and a good deal for taxpayers. This is the kind of collaboration that is possible when government deals directly with those it employs to provide public services and union influence is either rejected, or removed from the process. These teachers and their schools showed what they value. The actions of their union showed what it values, too.