09.11.2012 0

Rahm Emanuel Should Go All Ronald Reagan On Chicago’s Teachers Union

NRD Editor’s Note: This column was originally published at Forbes.com.

By Bill Wilson — As Frankin Roosevelt observed in 1937, “The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.” He called a strike by public workers “unthinkable and intolerable”.

Now we can see why in Chicago in 2012, where 26,000 public school teachers are on strike, leaving 350,000 students shut out of the classroom.

The union’s problem? A new evaluation program that bases a teacher’s job performance on their students’ standardized test scores, and 41-minute longer school days. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis worries as many as 6,000 teachers will be fired because of the evaluations.

Former Obama White House Chief of Staff now Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has little reason to back off either the evaluations or longer days, which he campaigned on, even if the schools are temporarily closed. Instead, Emanuel should move to simply hire new teachers if the union refuses to return to work within a few days.

In Illinois the unemployment rate stands at 8.9 percent. An aggressive campaign could recruit 26,000 new teachers in-state and from across the country in very short order from teachers who are desperate to find work, and who will not mind working longer days or being held accountable for student test scores.

This would take a page from Ronald Reagan, who in 1981 famously fired 11,000 striking air traffic controllers that were then barred from federal jobs until 1993.

Both episodes fully demonstrate why public sector union “collective bargaining”, and in particular, allowance of strikes, are very bad ideas. Strikes give union bosses too much power to disrupt vital government services unless their demands are met. In the case of the air traffic control strike, it endangered lives.

As for collective bargaining, it essentially makes public workers a fourth branch of government, where no changes in employee benefits, pay, or evaluation can be changed without union approval. Such methods actively rob duly elected legislatures of their constitutional powers over the purse, making reining in state and local budgets next to impossible.

In the immediate case of Chicago, the real victims are not lawmakers per se, but the 350,000 students who are unable to return to school, and are essentially being held hostage by the union. Days lost in the classroom can be deleterious to learning if the situation persists for long.

That is why Emanuel should not put up with it. As he once remarked, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” In this case, Emanuel has a unique opportunity to reform the entire Chicago public school system, ensuring that children get a quality education in a district where only 56 percent of students even graduate. If he is nimble, he can easily leverage this situation.

The students themselves provide a ready-made prop for Emanuel to announce that if the teachers do not return to work immediately, they will be replaced. Simply call together a press conference with out-of-school students standing in the background in solidarity, and the politics will take care of itself.

In the meantime, Illinois is only one of twelve states that allow public school teachers to lawfully strike.

Besides Illinois, they are Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. This case should give parents in all twelve states the impetus they need to demand that education not take a backseat to the whims of union bosses.

Bill Wilson is the President of Americans for Limited Government. You can follow Bill on Twitter at @BillWilsonALG.

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