Chicago Teachers’ Strike Contradicts Principle of Public Service
James Velasquez /
Students at Chicago schools are spending another day at home today, after a 700-page court filing against the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) was sidelined for later consideration.
Teachers walked off the job soon after the school year began, frustrating Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) and thousands of Chicago parents.
“This continued action by union leadership,” Mayor Emanuel said in a statement, “is illegal on two grounds. It is over issues that are deemed by state law to be non-strikable, and it endangers the health and safety of our children.”
Not backing down, the CTU has released a statement saying that “this attempt to thwart our democratic process is consistent with Mayor Emanuel’s bullying behavior toward public school educators… the mayor, CEO Brizard and members of the board want to trample our collective bargaining rights and hinder our freedom of speech and right to protest.”
Even if we can put aside gripes about the generous salary (at $76,000, it’s among the highest average in the nation) and extravagant benefits afforded to unionized Chicago teachers, a simple question remains: Why would public employees possess the same rights to “collective bargaining” that are possessed by workers in the private sector?
One could simply turn to Calvin Coolidge for an answer:
“There is no right,” he wrote in response to a strike by Boston Police, “to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.” Coolidge was then serving as the governor of Massachusetts, and his firm response to the strike helped him move on to the national stage.
But what if we don’t buy the mayor’s argument that the CTU strike “endangers the health and safety” of Chicago children? Well, in that case, there was another rather important American who had some thoughts on the issue:
“All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service… The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress.”
That comes from none other than Franklin D. Roosevelt, in a 1937 letter to Luther Steward, President of the National Federation of Federal Employees.
“Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government,” President Roosevelt wrote, “a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable.”
Teachers working in public schools are entrusted with the truly vital task of educating the next generation of entrepreneurs, statesmen, and yes, teachers. That they have chosen a life of public service is something to be admired. But the Chicago union is dishonoring the position with petty self-interest and theatrics.
Presidents Coolidge and Roosevelt may have differed on a great many things, but both understood the seriousness and responsibility that comes with being a public servant. The Chicago Teachers Union’s shameless talk about “collective bargaining rights” or a “right to protest” does nothing but betray its own greed, and any sort of “win” will be nothing but an embarrassment to its members in the eyes of the nation.