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A one-day teachers strike plays into Gov. Rauner’s hands

CTU President Karen Lewis with VP Jesse Sharkey, right, at a press conference in February. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

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Gov. Bruce Rauner wants to beat public unions down to size, and he thinks Chicago’s public schools are so badly managed that the state should take over.

Now the Chicago Teachers Union is contemplating a one-day strike that would play right into the governor’s hands. It would be a classic overreach by a bullying government union. It would further a narrative that the Chicago Public School system is in chaos. It would accomplish nothing.

The CTU’s governing body, the House of Delegates, is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a call from the union’s leaders for a one-day walkout on April 1. The strike is likely illegal and certainly ill-advised.

Sure would be nice if cooler heads prevailed.

EDITORIAL

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What Chicago’s school kids desperately need right now is not a teachers’ strike, but a unified and coordinated effort by school officials and the union to win new revenue from the state — a fairer cut of the tax dollars — to rescue a massively underfunded school system. CPS’ current $5.7 billion budget remains short $480 million that the district hoped to get from Springfield, and CPS is due to make another giant pension payment — $676 million — on June 30.

The state simply must do a better job of meeting its constitutional obligation to fund all school districts in Illinois, freeing them from an over-reliance on unequal property taxes. Sooner or later, this likely will mean raising the state income tax — and, ideally, making it progressive — and/or expanding the state’s sales tax base to cover far more services.

Equally needed, right now, is a reality check by the CTU. Additional revenue alone, from any source or tax, won’t end the district’s financial crisis. Nor will any extra revenue allow the district to be more generous in the current teacher contract negotiations. The crisis is simply too severe. Painful cost-cutting in CPS’ two largest budget lines — salaries and pensions — will always have to be part of the solution.

By any fair reckoning, it’s hard to see how the April 1 strike would be legal. State law explicitly prohibits a public union from going on a strike during the fact-finding stage of a contract negotiation, which is where the talks are now, or for at least 30 days after a fact-finding report is released to the public.

Union leaders contend a strike nonetheless became legal last September when CPS stopped paying automatic pay raises to teachers based on their years of professional experience and level of education. Ending “steps and lanes” salary increases, the CTU says, amounted to an “unfair labor practice.”

CPS officials counter that they were within their legal rights to do so, given that the teachers’ contract had expired a couple of months earlier, on June 30, and they have the better part of the argument. The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board — granted, a panel appointed by Rauner — ruled against the CTU on this last month.

Until some judge says otherwise, an April 1 walkout looks utterly lawless to us. Good luck, teachers, explaining that to your kids.

But, frankly, we don’t think the CTU’s leadership cares. Who’s gonna stop them?

On the union’s website, CTU leaders explain why they believe a strike would be legal, but then add: “CPS cannot replace 27,000 educators. When we are united and build strong alliances, there is little they can do to stop us.”

This is true. There probably is little CPS can do, especially in such a short time.

It is also true that Gov. Rauner, who is playing a longer game in his effort to curtail public unions, will add this quasi-wildcat strike to his running list of examples of union overreach and arrogance.

He will be right.

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