Last Updated:November 27 @ 11:19 am

More union challenges ahead for Rahm Emanuel

By Rahm Emanuel

CHICAGO (AP) - The grueling teachers strike is over. Now comes the hard part for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

As he pushes ahead on his promise to reform the city's underperforming classrooms, he faces several daunting tasks: slashing an estimated $1 billion budget deficit, confronting a woefully underfunded employee pension system and finding money for the pay raises that settled the first teacher walkout in a generation. He hasn't ruled out school closings and tax increases, both of which would be hugely unpopular.

Waiting in the wings are other unions, including police and firefighters, whose labor contracts have expired and who no doubt took notes as the teachers stood up to the former White House chief of staff with the fearsome reputation.

The strike, which idled more than 350,000 children for more than a week, was the first time Emanuel was forced to make serious concessions since leaving Washington last year. But the challenges he faces aren't unlike those confronting mayors in New York, Baltimore and elsewhere as they grapple with financial fallout from the Great Recession and urgent demands to improve public education.

"Union concessions won't get him there," said Ralph Martire, executive director of the Chicago-based Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. "And they can't cut their way to a better education system."

As he welcomed children back to school, Emanuel nodded at the difficulties ahead: "We have other tough things to do."

The mayor said he's made a good start by cutting $500 million from the district's central office and crafting a three-year teacher contract that will cost $75 million a year compared with $130 million a year for the last contract. But he would not elaborate on reports that the city may be pressured to raise taxes on cigarettes and amusements, and close dozens of schools and move more rapidly toward cheaper charter schools.

The day after schools reopened, he appeared in a privately funded TV ad emphasizing the achievements in the deal with the union: a longer school day and year, the ability for principals to hire their own teachers and a new teacher-evaluation system based in part on student test scores.

But Martire said the financial troubles are more deeply rooted. Many were inherited from former Mayor Richard M. Daley, who avoided a strike in his more than two decades in office but at a price. When City Hall took control over Chicago's schools in 1995, the pension system was almost fully funded.

"This is a crisis of their own doing," Martire said.

In arguing for better job security provisions, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis warned that the city would close more than 100 of its 600 schools "as soon as the ink is dry" on the new contract. City Hall dismissed the number as a rumor, but acknowledged that closing schools will be under consideration.

Many districts around the country are feeling similarly squeezed because for years they avoided cutting per-pupil spending and ignored pension obligations, said Eric Hanushek, a senior fellow in education at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.

"A number of states and localities are feeling under the gun. There are real pressures there, and I think it might continue for some time," Hanushek said. "Pensions are certainly going to be the big problem. A large number of districts are trying to ignore them until they get so large, someone has to bail them out."

Just last week in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg asked the schools and all other agencies to cut their spending to deal with the city's budget deficit after a plan to raise money by selling more taxi permits stalled.

Bloomberg, who gained control of the 1.1 million-student system a decade ago, is implementing a reform program that has closed more than 140 struggling schools and opened scores of new ones, including charter schools.

Meanwhile, districts also are struggling to implement the new teacher-evaluation system Chicago just adopted. Los Angeles schools are under a court order to come up with a plan after an education reform group sued. Baltimore's system has spawned complaints that too many teachers ended up with unfavorable reviews, and test cheating scandals have erupted in some schools.

As he looks forward, Emanuel also faces questions about his aggressive style, which seemed to galvanize the teachers.

Early on in his term, he rescinded a 4 percent teacher raise and said students were getting "the shaft." Then he tried to bypass the union to negotiate directly with individual schools over a longer day — an approach that may have ultimately fired up unions throughout the city.

"People have to come to the table and treat each other with respect," said Chicago Alderman Bob Fioretti.

Fioretti suggested the teacher strike could portend problems with firefighters and police contract talks, though those unions cannot legally strike. Police and fire contracts expired in June, and union leaders have indicated they intend to keep the talks out of the public eye.

"I believe all negotiations should be done at the negotiation table," said Thomas Ryan, president of Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2, who said issues include pay and response times. "We do not want to make this a public forum because I don't think it helps either side."

Don Rose, a veteran City Hall observer and political analyst, said Chicago mayors have a long tradition of "giving away the store to unions," but Emanuel has to be careful not to try to demonize organized labor.

The mayor has to "cool the anti-union stance and make it financial, make it about taxpayers because police have a lot of support and firefighters have lot of support, even though they can't strike."

"Things like this are not forgotten," Rose said. But Emanuel is "not a stupid man. He obviously will know how to recalibrate."


Associated Press writers Hugh Dellios in Chicago and Karen Matthews in New York City contributed to this report.

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  1. billwvComment by billwv
    September 24, 2012 @ 8:48 am

    “Great Recession” How is it that ‘the recession’ officially ended in 2009 and here we are ‘still’ in the midst of a great recession? I am amazed at the stupidity of politicians and news????? wire services. I don’t believe these people live in the real world. There is a ‘RECESSION’ going on, stupid and it has not officially ended. With Ozero and knotheads like him in charge we will have only a worse economy coming in the future.

    Time for ‘change’

    Give us a little ‘hope’ for a ‘change’

    Vote Romney / Ryan 2012

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    • nickster99Comment by nickster99
      September 24, 2012 @ 10:58 am

      Actually the politicians are hoping we are all very stupid to believe the recession has been over since 2009! And no they don’t live in the real world. They live in their own world! Even if Romney is elected and I pray that he and Ryan are. It will take until 2015-2016 for things to start getting better if we get on the right track! It will never happen in one year!

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    • middlegroundComment by middleground
      September 24, 2012 @ 11:06 am

      All the media has to say is that the recession has ended and unemployment is going down, and the faithful believe it. No one mentions the U-6 national unemployment figure is nearly 19% and 2,3 million went from unemployed to suddenly being handicapped and getting money from the social security fund.

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    • inluminatuoComment by inluminatuo
      September 24, 2012 @ 11:56 am

      It’s not the Great recession, it the Great depression of 1928 with the only difference that government can now borrow trillions before the election to manufacture a feeling of false prosperity that will fade to reality AFTER the election when it comes time to pay up. Figure what the interest is on $16 trillion each year in interest that gets redistributed on an international basis to our Chinese lenders that could be used to help hurting Americans in need. That comes to about $240 Billion in redistribution of American wealth that we pay each year on our national debt that is used to cover the failed mostly Democrat social experiments gone bad.
      Now comes the game changer, the hidden crisis that will break the back of our economy which these redistributors of American wealth have planned for you by turning your children into debt slaves. It happens when the interest rates rise back to normal, because of printed money like the QE3 latest $40 Billion per month that Bernanke and the Fed just manipulated for an addition half trillion in new printed money hitting our economy to reinflate their failed “Gvie any poor slob a Housing Loan” social experinment which will cause your dollar to inflate and devalue. The result will be more oney cirulated chasing the ssame amount of goods causing prices to inflate, and higher interest rates which when they return to the 5-6% norm, will cause the interest that the taxpayers have to pay on the $16 trillion in federal debt to rise each year from the $240 billion current to the ONE TRILLION PER YEAR IN INTEREST that will bankrupt American once and for all. The phony manufactured “FEEL GOOD” money spent to buy you votes will come home to roost and it will be Game over unless the Democrats are voted out. Time is running out and any fool who is not paying down his debt and storing food and gold for the coming debacle ( Post election of Course) had better be investing in guns and ammunition when the hungry horde of desperate entitlement people come knocking at your door to demand in person from you what the government currently does as their agent.

      Thank you Barack, Rahm, Nancy, Harry,,,you all made yours and will survive the downgrading and trickle down poverty that ALWAYS follows socialism,

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  2. JDZComment by JDZ
    September 24, 2012 @ 10:16 am

    The public service unions have become such a liability to the country at large for a host of reasons and those, primarily Democrat politicians, that have been in the middle of contract negotiations have aided and abetted the process. The first, and key mistake, goes back to the 1960′s when government passed laws allowing public service workers to unionize (against warnings by both FDR and George Meany) and then, to make matters worse, allowed them to have collective bargaining powers.

    Now, what we have across the whole country, are unsustainable salaries and benefits for public service employees that are forcing more and more government cuts in services, and in more and more cases, forcing cities to declare bankruptcy. What is sad is that these union leaders still are living in the past when the country could afford reasonable deals, but those days are gone, and now the greed and stubborn power these unions have over government is becoming more visible to the taxpayers who have to foot the bill.

    Our government leaders are going to have to take on the unions like Scott Walker has done in Wisconsin and change the balance of the power back to the taxpayers instead of allowing the union Mafia leaders, who control the liberal politicians they helped nominate and elect, to call the shots.

    The CTA (California Teachers Association), for example, see themselves as the fourth and most powerful leg of the Califirnia state government thanks to retread Governor Jerry Brown who gave them collective bargaining rights in the 1970′s when he was Governor the first time. These unions, from the city level up, are helping to destroy the great state of California through their meddling and influence in state policies as well as their unaffordable salaries and benefit packages.

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  3. giraffemomComment by giraffemom
    September 24, 2012 @ 10:50 am

    These people are not stupid. They choose to denigrate Bush and Republicans because they won’t man up and admit that their policies failed. They should have fired those teachers. There are enough out of work people with 4 year degrees who could have stepped in. Taking a look at the graduation rate for Chicago even as “untrained” in teaching methods as they would be, I couldn’t imagine them doing worse!

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  4. battleground51Comment by battleground51
    September 24, 2012 @ 11:57 am

    The big-city liberals have created these cosmopolitan monstrosities and now they must feed them.

    Obama wants to take it national.

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  5. battleground51Comment by battleground51
    September 24, 2012 @ 12:16 pm

    The teachers merely want a “living wage” as the Democrats call it.

    Problem is, a minimum, “living wage” in Chicago is about $100,000 per year.

    It’s a “high living” wage, indeed.

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  6. battleground51Comment by battleground51
    September 24, 2012 @ 12:20 pm

    The teachers want a nice house way out in the suburbs and private education for their children.

    They know, first hand, how bad the city schools are.

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  7. battleground51Comment by battleground51
    September 24, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

    Chicago is the land of highway robbery. Toll roads are everywhere and the toll taxes are oppressive. People are avoiding the toll roads and saving a bundle.

    That’s gotta hurt the toll trolls.

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  8. Eagle OneComment by Eagle One
    September 24, 2012 @ 12:55 pm

    Until the public unions are a thing of the past the past will remain in place infecting the future and the future will not improve.

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    • bna42Comment by bna42
      September 24, 2012 @ 1:32 pm

      “. . .slashing an estimated $1 billion budget deficit, confronting a woefully underfunded employee pension system and finding money for the pay raises that settled the first teacher walkout in a generation”

      The thing that astounds me is that we see this same scenario in almost every city across the nation, yet no one seems to be intelligent enough to understand it. Unions have demanded ridiculous salaries and perpetual benefits that can not be sustained, cities have given in to their demands knowing that they are unsustainable, yet now they are all far in debt and the unions are still demanding more.

      It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that you can not continue year after year to spend more than you take in and simply borrow more to make up the difference. The taxpayer can not continue to take up the slack and we can not borrow our way to prosperity.

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  9. scr1bblerComment by scr1bbler
    September 25, 2012 @ 6:01 am

    If you let the pigs take over the barnyard, pretty soon they cut off your pork.

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  10. joejacksonComment by joejackson
    September 25, 2012 @ 8:12 am

    Nationwide our debt to unions and public employees is a mind-numbing $900.000,000,000 so whatever Emanuel is doing it must be done everywhere as every state, city, county and federal union has been ripping off taxpayers with complicit politicians for years with no accountability and now we must pay the piper. Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Texas, Virginia have elected Republicans and they are winning the battle while the other states, like Emanuel in Illinois, are simply praying they are not discovered by the voters prior to this election. They will worry about the next election later isn’t that the democratic way or, “the Chicago way”?

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  11. middlegroundComment by middleground
    September 25, 2012 @ 9:35 am

    Very soon teachers and other PEU members will get paid by warrants as was done in the 1930s. Then they can try to cash that warrant for what a merchant or bank thinks they are worth. You get a warrant with a face value of $5000.00 that the bank will only give you $1000.00 for, the relation between revenue raised from taxes and governmental spending promises gets very real. Naturally, if the bank can’t sell a bundle of warrants to someone who hopes they will increase in value, these promissory warrants will go even lower in value. That is how it works in real life and how Freddie, Fannie and SallyMae worked until government tried to play games with taxpayer money.

    Emanuel can promise anything, but if the revenue isn’t there to back up the promises they have all the substance of a puff of smoke.

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