Reality check to teachers union: Affordable housing has no place at the bargaining table

CTU should stop wasting precious bargaining time with far-fetched demands while a strike looms.

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Chicago Teachers Union members rallied on Sept. 24, 2019 before a strike vote. Union members later voted to strike on Oct. 17.

Chicago Teachers Union members rallied on Sept. 24, 2019 before a strike vote. Union members later voted to strike on Oct. 17.

Scott Heins/Getty Images

Solving Chicago’s affordable housing crisis?

What’s that got to do with a labor contract for educators?

It’s time for the Chicago Teachers Union to get real: Stop wasting precious bargaining time pushing far-fetched demands while a potential strike looms over the city next week.

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A strike that would shut 296,752 students out of school for days or weeks.

Kids would sit at home. They would learn nothing.

If the CTU strikes over this one, we predict it will not go down well with most of the rest of the city.

Frankly, the CTU’S proposal to include provisions on affordable housing in its contract with Chicago Public Schools is more than far-fetched. It’s absurd. Yet the union spent Tuesday’s bargaining session pushing the idea, much to the exasperation of Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

It is especially absurd when matters such as salaries, health insurance contributions, teacher prep time and work conditions — issues legitimately part of any labor contract — remain unresolved.

We have to ask, what will the CTU demand next? That the school board solve gun violence in Chicago, improve mass transit, create more jobs and open grocery stores in food deserts?

We understand that many CPS students face very real social problems in their communities. We get why the CTU wants to use its leverage to address at least one of those big problems.

As the union points out, almost 17,000 CPS schoolchildren are homeless, and the city’s shrinking stock of housing for working families of modest means contributes to the problem.

But the shortage of affordable housing is a problem best addressed by all Chicagoans, who also understand that our city must contend with countervailing challenges, such as massively underfunded pension systems and high property taxes. Most pressing, the city must immediately fill a $838 million budget hole.

It does not help, we should add, that the CTU’s initial proposed solutions to the problem of affordable housing, such as rent control and a corporate head tax, are big and controversial. Public policies like that beg for the kind of inclusive citywide discussion that’s never going to happen in a contract negotiation with a single public union.

The CTU, to be blunt, does not speak for everybody. It speaks for its members.

The majority of Chicagoans, we believe, appreciate the union’s concerns about large class sizes and school staffing. They understand why those school-based issues have become sticking points in negotiations, though we and others would argue that such matters are best left to CPS management — who are better positioned to see the big picture.

But affordable housing? Really?

So let’s review what we’ve got here.

To begin with, the teachers have been offered a terrific raise of, effectively, 24% over five years. The average teacher in five years would be earning an income of close to six-figures.

Yet the CTU is threatening to strike.

Secondly, the union is demanding more teacher prep time, though that would mean shortening the real school day — the amount of time devoted to actually teaching children. Chicagoans fought long and hard for that longer school day, which once was among the shortest in the nation. Going back would be like stealing from the kids.

Yet the CTU is threatening to strike over that.

And now the CTU, running absurdly far afield, wants to impose its version of a solution — in a union contract — to the problem of affordable housing. Even as negotiations over more appropriate issues, like pay and benefits, go nowhere.

The union would strike over that?

How irresponsible.

The CTU is playing hooky from reality.

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