George Will, the conservative Washington Post columnist, Sunday-morning pedant and native Illinoisan, is constitutionally incapable of agreeing with a Democrat. That’s the only explanation for the fact that he took the side of Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis in a recent column on her union’s dispute with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Wrote Will:
Still, have sympathy for Karen Lewis, 58, a Dartmouth graduate who is a daughter of two African American teachers. She taught chemistry for 22 years until she became president of the 26,502-member CTU. Her job is to make life better for her members, not to make life easier for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, with his roughneck’s reputation and stevedore’s profanity, whose ideas are as admirable as his manners are deplorable.
He thinks that improved schools, including more charter schools, might arrest the exodus to the suburbs of parents whose children are ready for high school, so he wants a longer school year and school day.
The CTU wants a pay raise — 30 percent — proportional to Emanuel’s 90-minute increase in the school day and 10-day increase in the school year. He has canceled a 4 percent raise and offers only 2 percent. He says benefits the CTU has won — e.g., many teachers pay nothing toward generous pensions they can collect at age 60 — could in just three years force property taxes up 150 percent and require classes with 55 students.
Even discounting Emanuelean hyperbole, whose fault is this? Just as foggy rhetoric about corporations’ “social responsibilities” obscures the fact that a corporation’s responsibility is to maximize shareholder value, blaming unions for improvident contracts ignores the fact that a union’s principal task is to enhance members’ well-being — wages, benefits, working conditions. Unions can wound themselves by injuring their industries (e.g., steel and autos), but primary blame for improvident contracts with public employees belongs to the elected public officials who grant them.
Except it wasn’t Emanuel who granted the teachers that contract. It was his predecessor, Richard M. Daley, who presided over Chicago in the 1990s and 2000s, when America was so wealthy that even the middle class was allowed to have money. Now that it’s not so wealthy, only the wealthy are allowed to have money. Emanuel, who rules on behalf of the wealthy, is trying to enforce this principle by demanding the teachers do more work for the same amount of money they were earning before.
The mayor ought to be a right-wing hero for the way he’s dealing with his city’s largest public employee union. But Will is so steeped in D.C. partisanship that he can’t give a Democrat credit for union busting. Which is a shame, because he deserves it. Just as he deserves less blame than Will assigns him for generous union contracts.
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