Opinion: Chicago teachers should stop holding city hostage

Steve Siebold
Chicago teachers went on strike Oct. 17 after failing to reach a contract deal with the nation’s third-largest school district in a dispute that canceled classes for over 300,000 students.

The streets of downtown Chicago have been packed the last week with more than 30,000 teachers protesting for pay increases and other benefits like affordable housing, smaller class sizes, and more nurses and social workers on campus. The strike leaves more than 360,000 students stranded.

Eighty percent of these kids are from lower-income families, and mom and dad are struggling enough to make ends meet without having to deal with additional child care costs while teachers are protesting instead of doing their jobs. To the teachers and union: Shame on you! It’s time to stop whining and get back to work.

I have friends and family who are educators, and I know it’s a difficult job. I respect teachers and believe that preparing our next generation of leaders ranks as one of our most important professions. However, Chicago teachers have it pretty good already. The average salary for Chicago teachers is roughly $71,150 per year. Mayor Lori Lightfoot is offering a 16% raise over five years, meaning the average teacher will make about $100,000, according to the school system.

And if earning $100,000 per year with the summers off isn’t good enough, I recommend they resign their position and give their job to someone who appreciates it. In a union-free environment, these teachers would be fired and replaced. That’s how the free market operates. You can’t hide beyond the mob mentality of the union.

Personally, I believe many of Chicago’s teachers want to take the offer and run, because deep down they know it’s a good deal. What’s holding them back? The union. Union workers have become spoiled based on every factor outside of job performance and results. There was a time when employers abused their power and unions leveled the playing field. They gave the little guy a voice, and it worked.

Unfortunately, the problem today is that union leaders and members refuse to give up their stranglehold on industry and government. Like a gang on the mean streets of Chicago, they use their size and power to bully, intimidate and terrorize anyone or anything that refuses to give in to their demands.

The teachers union is holding Chicago and 360,000 children hostage for $2.5 billion it doesn’t have: A city so far in debt that it’s been robbing Peter to pay Paul for years, with no end in sight. The teachers and union leaders need to learn how money works, and when they do, they’ll realize that they’re lucky to have a $71,000 job working for a city that’s broke.

Another piece to this that teachers and the union seem to have missed is that the Illinois Teachers' Retirement System, the state's biggest pension fund, is severely underfunded. The pension teachers are relying on is in grave danger. These teachers will be lucky to collect the pension they’ve been promised. Attempting to bleed a broken system is a fool’s errand, and it’s time for them to wake up and smell the insolvency.

Unions are an archaic institution that should be buried with the dead. Perhaps one of the biggest problems that unions create is the idea that members have a right to a job, like it’s an entitlement awarded at birth.

I sincerely hope that this unfortunate, unfounded strike comes to an end quickly. These 360,000 kids belong in the classroom, not wandering around a very dangerous city.

Steve Siebold is the coauthor of the book "How Money Works: Stop Being a Sucker."