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Filler: Chicago teacher's strike shows liberals, unions don't get along like they used to

Public school teachers picket outside Amundsen High School

Public school teachers picket outside Amundsen High School on the first day of a strike by the Chicago Teachers Union. (Sept. 10, 2012) Credit: AP

Facing down organized labor: it’s not just for conservatives anymore.

In the showdown between the Chicago Public School system and its teachers that led to a strike Monday, Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel is the point man in the fight against the union. Emanuel is also the former White House chief of staff for President Barack Obama, and just last week agreed to spearhead the president’s reelection fundraising for the next two months.

And it’s Obama, along with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, (himself the former head of the Chicago school system) who devised the education reforms, starting with the federal “Race to the Top” program, that have brought things to a boil in Chicago.

Liberals and public-sector labor unions just don’t share the love like they used to.

It was one thing when Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker faced down the public-sector labor unions in his state. He’s one of the fresh, young faces in a party that’s mantra has been “Big government is a wasteful cesspool that sucks the lifeblood from hardworking taxpayers” for 25 years.

But when Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced down teachers in New York by implementing a teacher evaluation system based on factors other than seniority, and got it past the Democrat –dominated (and labor-money influenced) Assembly, the union world took notice. Similar dramas are playing out across the country, to greater and lesser degrees, as broke states and school districts wrestle with ever-increasing pension and health care costs, as well as salaries. And beyond the financial issues lie accountability issues, which are an even bigger sticking point: replacing tenure and seniority-based reward systems with those based on teacher performance, and linked to student performance.

Chicago pays teachers more than any other big city in the nation. They average $76,000 per year before benefits, and want a 29-percent increase over the next two years. Emanuel and the city are offering 16 percent over four years. But officials on both sides say money isn’t the sticking point. What’s gumming up negotiations is teacher evaluations, the way the city is imposing a longer school day, the right to bank sick days and job security going forward.

Liberals, believing in the curative powers of big government, now realize that if they can’t reign in public unions, big government will fail to provide the services, at the price, that makes taxpayers tolerate big government.

One person who hadn’t caught on to this as of Monday is Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who often argues Obama has put unions ahead of students.

“President Obama has chosen his side in this fight, sending his Vice President last year to assure the nation’s largest teachers union that ‘you should have no doubt about my affection for you and the President’s commitment to you,’” Romney said in a statement.

The teachers’ unions may have the White House’s affection (or at least the promise of it), but Obama is going to impose his brand of education reform and the unions hate it.

In fact, the White House has refused to officially take sides on the strike, but it’s the Obama administration’s plans that have wreaked this havoc with school unions and Obama’s best buddy, Rahm, staring down Chicago’s teachers.

Big-government Democrats can’t afford to stand with public-service unions anymore, because the demands of public-service unions have made big government unaffordable.

And because their work rules have made school districts unworkable.

Pictured above: Public school teachers picket outside Amundsen High School on the first day of a strike by the Chicago Teachers Union. (Sept. 10, 2012)


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