Proponents of public-sector unionism claim it creates amicable labor-management relations and leads to an efficient, effective government workforce, which in turn promotes the public interest.
But Chicago government unions’ actions prove otherwise.
Most recently, Chicago government unions announced a new advocacy organization, We Are One Chicago, intended to fight against municipal pension reform that is badly needed. According to Moody’s Investor Services, Chicago has $36 billion in unfunded liabilities.
In place of cutting back Chicago public pensions, the union coalition suggests a better fix to Chicago’s budget problems is more taxes and increasing existing tax rates. Yet Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel said, “without pension reform Chicagoans face huge tax hikes even cuts to public safety personnel.”
Unfortunately, government unions campaigning for higher taxes to raise revenues that end up paying for generous public-employee pay and benefits is a routine union tactic. Heritage Foundation research counted at least 25 union-backed campaigns to raises taxes between 2008 and 2010.
Clearly, Chicago government unions campaigning to keep in place an unsustainable pension system by raising taxes is contrary to the public interest.
However, this is not the first time, nor will it be the last time, Chicago government unions will advocate for their own self-interest over the public interest. You might recall the Chicago Teachers Union strike in 2011. As I noted in the Pioneer Press:
The Chicago Teachers Union seven-day strike provides a stark example of the moral hazards that arise from rigging the system in favor of government unions. Illinois state law “prohibits the CTU from striking over non-economic issues, such as layoff and recall policies, teacher evaluations, class sizes and the length of the school day and year.” Yet CTU President Karen Lewis has stated that evaluation standards and layoffs policies are the reason the teachers abandoned their 350,000 students.
Citing the aforementioned state law, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel filed an injunction to take teachers off the picket line and put them back in the classroom. However, Cook County Circuit Judge Peter Flynn refused to hear the case in a timely manner. As Judge Flynn dithered, taxpayer money was being allocated to “Children First” sites meant to keep open some schools in order to provide day care and meals to Chicago’s poorest students. The strike’s cost — in terms of both the delayed education of Chicago’s youth and loss of productivity caused by parents being forced to stay home and watch their kids — has yet to be tallied, but is bound to be considerable.”
On Sept. 10, the 25,000-plus members of the powerful Chicago Teachers Union walked off their jobs, abandoning their 350,000 students in the process. Instead of teaching, they took to the streets to try to wring more money from the city, among other sundry demands. The union originally asked for a 30 percent salary increase for teachers who already make an average of more than $70,000 per year. As the editors of the Wall Street Journal noted, “That’s not a bad deal compared to the median household income of $47,000 for a Chicago worker in the private economy.”
Ultimately, the Chicago Teachers Union won a generous 16-percent increase over four years, even though the Chicago school system, at the time, had a $665 million deficit.
It is important to remember that union bosses’ (government or otherwise) allegiance lies with their members and not the public. And when government unions advocate for increased taxes or negotiate unsustainable pay and benefits, it hinders government’s ability to provide essential services in a reliable fashion.