I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why Chicago Strike Makes Reformies Nervous

Uh-oh; the teachers in state-controlled Paterson are getting kinda... uppity.

Only working contract hours is called "work-to-rule." It is not pleasant; but in a state like New Jersey, where it is for all intents and purposes illegal to strike, it's one of the few options available. My guess is that the Paterson teachers and the union local are looking at the hit Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is taking from the strike, and they feel emboldened about taking action.

The fact that Paterson is a state-controlled district means that the ultimate responsibility for what happens there rests with Education Commissioner Chris Cerf and Governor Christie. Any fallout from increased work actions falls on them, not on the mayor or even the local school board.

And Peter Tirri, the local union leader here, makes a good point: the state isn't doing a very good job managing Paterson's schools: even Cerf admits it. His glitzy projects keep getting stalled, all while his cronies from the Broad Foundation make big bucks from the district. Meanwhile - and Tirri deserves great credit for bringing this up - the Abbott/SFRA laws, which were supposed to get more resources into Paterson to help the low-income children, have been undermined by the current administration.

So work actions in Paterson actually mirror the Chicago strike. Sure, compensation is an issue; but even more than that, it's about whether autocratic, top-down rulers are ignoring their obligations to provide the poorest children with the resources they need for their schools. Money matters - Jersey has proved this with Abbott/SFRA. But that is a point Christie most certainly does not want to acknowledge.

The fight for better working conditions in the Chicago schools is a fight for better teaching conditions. Parents and other citizens agree, and are ready to punish politicians who don't. Chicago teachers have, so far, successfully made that case. Now teachers around the country are looking at Chicago as a model.

And that has got to make a lot of powerful people very nervous.

ADDING: The Chicago strike is over. Expect the reformy spin to commence momentarily.

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