Ward Room
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Rahm vs. The Unions

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Rahm vs. The Unions

The modern war against labor unions began 30 years ago, when President Ronald Reagan fired the striking members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Association. It’s been remarkably successful. Today, only 12 percent of American belong to a union, less than half the all-time high.

But 37 percent of public sector employees are unionized. Now that trade unions like the Teamsters and the United Auto Workers have been vanquished or neutered, they’re the next target of the anti-labor movement.

Rahm Emanuel has been unpopular with organized labor ever since he helped Bill Clinton push the North American Free Trade Agreement through Congress in 1993. He’s not improving his image in union halls with his support of Performance Counts, a bill before the state legislature that would severely limit the unions’ right to strike or bargain over work conditions, such as the length of the school day.

“As we have [rules against strikes] for police and firefighters, I would have it for teachers because they provide an essential service,” Emanuel told the Sun-Times.

Emanuel is the only mayoral candidate to endorse Performance Counts. During a forum sponsored by the Chicago Teachers Union last month (which Emanuel did not attend), Carol Moseley Braun, Gery Chico and Miguel del Valle all voiced their opposition to Performance Counts.

At a Chicago Federation of Labor endorsement session, Emanuel reportedly told union leaders it may be necessary to reduce the pensions of current city employees. Moseley Braun, Chico and del Valle all favor a “two tier” system, with lower benefits for new hires.

“I find Mr. Emanuel’s idea lacking in both conscience and creativity,” del Valle said in a statement.  Public employees guaranteed a decent retirement after decades of work deserve the opportunity to retire with dignity.  Under a Del Valle administration, they will have that opportunity. The city’s pension funds provide retirement security for tens of thousands of city workers, including police officers and firefighters. Most do not participate in the federal Social Security program, and the vast majority receive benefits averaging about $40,000 a year. Furthermore, I agree with legal experts who argue that, under the Illinois Constitution, reducing pension benefits for current employees is unconstitutional.”

The decline of trade unions makes it easier for anti-labor politicians to get rid of teachers’ unions who stand in the way of their absolute control over schools. Because as unions have declined, so have wages. That, sadly, makes it easier for elites to rally the underpaid public against spoiled, overpaid government workers. And unions, a traditional source of political workers for liberals politicians, have fewer resources to fight those changes.

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