Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday urged the Chicago Teachers Union to drop talk of a strike and join forces with the Chicago Public Schools in the drive to get the $480 million in pension help from Springfield needed to avert massive teacher layoffs.
Nine months ago, mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia warned that Chicago faced its second teachers strike in three years if a “hard-headed” and “confrontational” Rahm Emanuel was re-elected.
Garcia warned then that Emanuel’s bullying missteps instigated the seven-day teachers’ strike in 2012 that was Chicago’s first in 25 years and predicted that the same thing would happen again unless Emanuel changed his stripes.
One day after the CTU ratcheted up the strike talk by scheduling a “practice vote” and advising its members to prepare for a “protracted strike,” the mayor proved that he was not about to make the same mistake twice.
Instead of being provocative, he was calm and deliberative. Instead of confronting the union that got the best of him the last time around, then ran a challenger against him, Emanuel reached out his hand for cooperation.
“If we’re going to continue to spare the classrooms — which is the right thing to do, so teachers can focus on making the educational gains we just took note of nationally — it means that Springfield has to finally step up and treat Chicago children and Chicago teachers in the same way that they treat the students and teachers of the rest of the state,” the mayor said.
“Rather than focusing on CPS, let’s [join forces]. Combined, we are stronger in getting Springfield to address the inequity, which is where the answer is.”
Three years after CTU President Karen Lewis led her members out on strike, Emanuel was asked whether he was worried about a strike and concerned that the mere talk of a strike could send parents running for the hills away from Chicago Public Schools.
“Look, we all want the same thing, which is to allow our teachers to have the resources in the classroom to do what they’re doing,” he said.
“The answer to the challenge that we all collectively have — not CPS alone — is that CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union join forces together and make sure that Springfield now answers to the needs that we need. Every child and every teacher in the rest of the state receives a subsidy of about $2,400 a year. Chicago teachers and Chicago students get about $156. That is unfair and wrong, especially given all of the educational gains being made.”
After joining the mayor at a groundbreaking ceremony for a new hotel on Cicero Avenue near Midway Airport, House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) was asked whether the saber rattling about a potential teachers strike helps or hurts the case for $480 million in pension help built into the CPS budget.
“It doesn’t [impact] me. My focus is the state budget deficit. That’s where I begin and where I end. The No. 1 problem facing the government of the State of Illinois is the state budget deficit. Which means that we have to get together to talk, negotiate, do some cuts and do some new revenue. There should be a balanced approach,” Madigan said.
Madigan said CPS “deserves special attention and special consideration by the Legislature and the governor” because it is the largest school system in the state with 86 percent of its students poor, 85 percent of them minorities and 16 percent English learners.
Gov. Bruce Rauner pretty much agrees and has built roughly $200 million in additional state aid to CPS into his own plans. But he’s not about to help Chicago until the mayor helps him deliver his anti-union, pro-business agenda. That’s what the governor’s light-hearted gift to his old friend Emanuel of a pair of tuna steaks was all about last week.
If Rauner meant the dead fish as a dig at his old friend, Emanuel didn’t take it that way.
“Having just passed a budget that fundamentally fixes our financial house in order, I communicated to the governor. I said, `There’s two tuna steaks in there for you when you get your budget done. And I’ll cook `em,’” the mayor said.
The governor has been trying like crazy to drive a wedge between the mayor and Madigan and hopes the CPS crisis will turn up the heat on Emanuel to make the break and side with the governor in favor of his pro-business reforms. In fact, Rauner has predicted that the state budget stalemate will end in January, when a simple majority is needed for passage and Chicago will be desperate for money to avert the need for thousands of teacher layoffs.
But Emanuel’s lavish praise for Madigan at Tuesday’s groundbreaking underscored the speaker’s point: Rauner’s divide-and-conquer strategy is a bust.
“He has not and I don’t think he will” drive a wedge between himself and Emanuel, Madigan said.
“The mayor and I share too many common interests. We’re both Chicagoans. We’re both dedicated to the interests of the city of Chicago, to the Chicago school system. And we’re very dedicated to the principles of the Democratic Party.”
The speaker added, “When the governor talks in terms of non-budget issues — like changes in worker’s compensation, changes in collective bargaining, changes in the prevailing wage — he wants to use the government to drive down wages and the standard of living and force injured workers to the emergency room and onto welfare. Any person that’s dedicated to the principles of the Democratic Party is not going to agree that the government should be driving down wages and the standards of living.”
Madigan said there is “plenty of blame to go around” for the state budget stalemate and it could have been resolved in May, when Democrats sent the governor a spending plan that was admittedly short of money.
But having said that, the speaker held out little hope for a televised meeting between the governor and the four state legislative leaders on Nov. 18 arranged by good government groups.
Asked point-blank whether the stalemate could be broken at that meeting, Madigan said with a trademark smile, “What do you think?”