“They want to know if there is anything more they can get.” – UPDATED

Scanning headlines in my twitter feed over the past few days, I noticed at one point, a journalist tweeting that the strike by Chicago teacher’s seemed poised to end, as there was a tentative agreement, which seemed like good news. Teachers making an average salary of $76,000 per year plus excellent benefits were perhaps going to “settle” for a 16% increase over four years.

Then ATF resident Randi Weingarten corrected him. All that had been agreed to was a framework, not a deal.

(photo source)

An AP article spelled it out:

“I’m hard-pressed to imagine how they could have done much better,” said Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “This is a very impressive outcome for the teachers.”

With an average salary of $76,000, Chicago teachers are among the highest-paid in the nation, and the contract outline calls for annual raises. But some teachers are upset it did not restore a 4 percent raise Emanuel rescinded last year.

And included this bit…

“Our members are not happy,” [Chicago Teachers Union president Karen] Lewis said. “They want to know if there is anything more they can get.”

The “more” they want is an increase in job security (tenure is not enough?) and lowered expectations. Oddly enough, if you search the AP article for that Lewis quote, now, it’s gone missing. You can google the quote and find it within other sources. Like here and here.

But in the AP report, Lewis’ repellently mercenary-sounding quote seems to have been toned-down, appreciably:

“They’re not happy with the agreement. They’d like it to actually be a lot better.”

When you’re trying to drain the teet before it goes dry, I guess the second quote sounds a lot less greedy than the first. They just want it to “actually be a lot better.”

Yeah. Make it better! Tenure, an average salary ‘way above that of the families we’re teaching, great benefits and lowered expectations. Make it better than that!

It’s like licking the bowl clean while complaining that the frosting isn’t sweet enough.

UPDATE: Deroy Murdock wonders Why is Obama so quiet about this strike?

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://jscafenette.com Manny

    And people ask me why I’m against unions. There was a time when unions may have been required to provide justice to an employer/employee balance of power. Today clearly the balance of power is with those who want some special advantage over the rest of the public. Unions, especially public sector unions where there is no free market to damp down excesses, get an incredible advantage over the general employee. You mention that Chicago teachers earn $76,000 but you should also mention that the average person in Chicago earns around $40,000 a year and with less benefits. Justice is now against unions and with the consumer and taxpayer.

  • Patricia

    If there was ever one non partisan issue to run on, it’s “against public sector unions.” We recently saw it in California. I don’t care how one comes down politically, when it comes to OUR tax money being used to fund greed, eveyone (outside of the union of course) is usually on board; the epitomie of “all politics are local.”

    Heck, I’d even predict Romney could win the state of CA if he ran on “the war against public sector unions.” American have not only had enough, they are no seeing the dire consequences.

  • Patricia

    correction: meant to say “now seeing the dire consequences”

  • J. H. M. Ortiz

    “Manny” may be against unions, but popes since Leo XIII are for them. Do we go with “Manny”, or with the popes?
    Nor is there anything wrong even with “public-sector unions”. However, for such reasons as “Patricia” gives, it probably should be illegal for public-sector unions to go on strike.

  • Thinkling

    The amazing thing about unions is that while they were formed to fight to eliminate abuses, they now exist (to a large extent) to fight to perpetuate abuses.

    No right thinking person, papal or otherwise, has ever been in favor of unions perpetuating abuses.

  • http://jscafenette.com Manny


    When popes get economics degrees and understand the politcal, budgetary, and finance nuiances of the American economy, then their opinion might mean something. Otherwise they are going by some idealized notion of how unions work, not reality as it stands here. That idealized notion was formulated at the end of the 19th century. It’s a hundred years out of date.

    Popes shouldn’t be telling countries how to run their economies period. They should be setting ethical and moral standards. How the countries meet those moral and ethical standards should be up to them. Popes tried to interfere with governments in the middle ages (and beyond) and it proved a disaster. This is no different. I cannot believe any Pope would side with teachers earning $76,000 a year, way more benefits than the average worker, having tenure, not teaching for two months out of the year, retiring after 25 years, and getting a solid pension while others are struggling just to get a job, let alone earn what teachers make. Let me repeat, unless Popes understand the nuiances of a country’s economy, they shouldn’t be stipulating economic process.

  • Patricia

    JHM Ortiz:

    I respectully disagree that “Popes are for ‘public sector’ unions.” Popes, and all reasonable good people, were/are certainly for unions for the “little guy” and when they do serve well needed workers protections.

    That said, even FDR was against public sector unions, which should have never been made legal. The consequences of public sector unions are too numerous to mention, and most of those consequences, are without question against church teachings.

    It’s imperative when talking about labor unions to distinguish between private and public sector, as they are night and day.

  • Mary


    There may be good reasons to critique the actions of some modern unions, but, as in all things the church teaches, we should always strive to think with the church before we decide that the church, and the popes, don’t know what they are talking about. Your first paragraph strays dangerously towards the, ‘priests aren’t married so they can’t tell me what to do about my marriage, the pope isn’t a woman so he can’t tell women what to do with their bodies’ and your second seems to show a decided lack of knowledge about the American public educational system, how it developed, and why certain practices are in place.

    Finally, to suggest that there isn’t a moral component to economics and how management should act towards labor and how labor should act towards management is dangeously objectivist.

  • J. H. M. Ortiz

    “Abusus non tollit usum”: That labor unions are misused is no valid argument against their existence.
    The popes’ — and the American bishops’ — pro-union position is not any detailed economic formula, only a general principle that workers have a right to organize themselves.
    The Chicago teachers’ union is a public-sector union on strike. I’ve admitted that striking should generally be illegal for public-sector unions.

  • http://jscafenette.com Manny

    You say
    “Your first paragraph strays dangerously towards the, ‘priests aren’t married so they can’t tell me what to do about my marriage, the pope isn’t a woman so he can’t tell women what to do with their bodies’ ”

    No it doesn’t stray to that. It strays to religious people mandating that the earth is the center of the solar system (as in Galileo), or that evolution didn’t happen (as in creationism) or any other pre modern charge against scientific evidence. Economics is as much a specialized discipline as science. I’m saying that’s analogous. I emphatically emphasize that the church should understand economics before it starts trying to tell people what the system best leads to prosperity for most people. Look up the history of lending money and how the church prevented banking transactions for centuries under the notion of usury. Jews had to become lenders because the Church decided that all lending for interest is unchristian. And in the process held back economic progress. I don’t know at what point in history the church realized it but they no longer restrict Christians from lending money.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    That labor unions are misused might not be an argument against their existence.

    It sure as heck is an argument against letting them continue to be misused, allowing them to soak the public for money and, in this particular case, betray the trust they owe to America’s schoolchildren.

  • http://jscafenette.com Manny

    I wasn’t actually claiming they shouldn’t exist. Let me clarify what I was trying to say with the Church not mandating unions. If the objective is the human dignity of workers and justice, then that objective can be met in several different ways. It can be met through unions, through legislation, through outside non partisan board, through worker/employer committees, or ways i can’t think up. For the Church to mandate a process is to ignore cultural traditions of localized groups, nations if you will. What difference does it make how that human dignity is upheld? Unions are phasing out of existence. To be locked in to that worker model will soon be as outdated as the notion of usury was in money lending. The Church should uphold the universal objective, not the process of how it’s achieved.

  • Mary

    Umm… I’m a trained medieval historian, trained at a pontifical university, and my specialty is Italy. I think Italians might have something to say about the Church holding back the development of economic progress. Also, the church never mandated that the earth was in the center of the solar system. Both situations you’ve used as examples are far more complicated than you’ve made them out to be.

    And the church ISN’T telling people what economic system best leads to prosperity, but they’re trying to make sure that there is a moral framework, to be used within whichever system, that provides and ensures workers have a voice. It turns out unions, i.e. the right of workers to advocate together in a group on their behalf, is a fundamental part of justice.

    Does that mean that the Chicago teachers striking are saints because clearly they are working within a Catholic framework? No. Should the Church shy away from getting involved in the ethics of striking? No, even if some might subsequently paint the Church with a ‘liberal’ brush, or decide that they’re commenting outside of their own expertise. What pope has been a trained bio-ethicist? Are you questioning the pope’s ability to listen to science experts to help form his theological opinions on life issues? If not, why can’t the pope listen to economists to help him form his opinions on worker justice, which is also life issue.

  • Mary

    “notion of usury was in money lending”

    Also, the notion os usury isn’t outdated in money lending, although we might not use the term anymore. Excessive interest IS decried by both secular and ecclesiastical circles alike, because it unduly cripples people’s ability to provide for themselves. Does this mean that we shouldn’t educate people so that they don’t take out loans they can’t afford? Of course not, that’s really important, but nor should we just stand by and let interest rates skyrocket because ‘usury’ is outdated.

    (And for the record, there were just as many economic reasons the popes and churches decried usury in the middle ages as doctrinal ones, and it often resulted in forced lending, totally crippling the ‘lender’s,’ both Jews and Christians, ability to provide for their families.)

  • http://jscafenette.com Manny

    “Also, the notion os usury isn’t outdated in money lending, although we might not use the term anymore.”

    All money lending was deemed usury.

    “I think Italians might have something to say about the Church holding back the development of economic progress.”

    Prior to the high middle ages, economic progress was held back. Perhaps you can tell me why it changed and what caused the Church to reconsider all money lending as usury. But it did. Now I’m not claiming that money lending policy was solely responsible, but from the fall of the Roman Empire to the 12th century, economic progress was poor to say the least. So what was a policy (money lending as unchristian) for hundreds of years was reconsidered. Same thing will occur with unions. They have passed their usefulness.

  • http://jscafenette.com Manny

    ” If not, why can’t the pope listen to economists to help him form his opinions on worker justice, which is also life issue.”

    Because you have to live there and understand the nuiances of the localized situation. Like I said, the Pope should set the moral objective. How it’s achieved is micro managing and counter productive.

  • http://jscafenette.com Manny

    Not sure how accurate this history is but it’s a good read:

    An exerpt:
    “A major obstacle to the growth of banks in the Middle Ages was the Church’s prohibition of usury, the charging of interest on loans. As economic activity expanded, however, the papacy became one of the first to insist that interest should be paid on investments made at a risk. Because they were forbidden to hold land or engage in more “acceptable” sources of economic enterprise, money changers in the Middle Ages were typically Jews. After the shift in Church policy regarding usury, it became more acceptable to be a financier and attempts were made to expel Jews from their commercial role.

    The international luxury trade was centered in Rome during the Middle Ages. By the end of the thirteenth century, Florentines, as papal treasurers and tax collectors, spurred Florence to become the banking centre of Europe. Large numbers of families invested capital in commercial and industrial developments. In the 1290′s, the Bardi and Peruzzi families had established branches in England and were the main European bankers by the 1320′s. By 1338, there were more than eighty banking houses in Florence with operations across Europe. The financial success of Florentine banking activities led others to break the monopoly. During the fifteenth century, municipal banks became established, including one at Barcelona in 1401 and one a few years later at Valencia. One of the longest and most stable banks was the Bank of Saint George in Genoa, established in 1407 by state creditors and run by a board of directors. ”

    Banking and economic progress accelerated once the money lending taboo was changed. To its credit, the Church apparantly saw the error. But it went almost a thousand years under a previous rubrick.

  • Mary

    Yeah, money-lending had nothing to do with the collapse of the Roman Empire, unless you want to argue that excessive money-lending and borrowing helped precipitate the collapse. And from the 4th century until about the 11th, we’re talking about a society (which we shouldn’t even do, because England, the Carolingian Kingdoms, Italy, etc. should never be spoken about together at this period) that was just trying to get a semblance of order out of chaos. Rulers didn’t even listen to the pope, or bishops for that matter, unless it suited themselves, so no canon law against usury was going to stop someone from lending or borrowing with interest, that is if your superior even asked you if he could borrow (and make no mistake, no one was lending to an inferior at this time).

    The emphasis on usury (emphasis being the operative word) in the high middle ages really came as a direct result of a rebounding economy, and did not cause an economic slump. In an effort to control the new kind of economy, where you seemingly produced money without ‘working’ for it, i.e. you bought and sold product, but didn’t produce any of it yourself, usury laws were made or officials tried to enforce laws already on the books. The fact that there was so much emphasis on usury pretty much tells you that no one was obeying the laws at all, if they could get away with it, and attacks against money-lenders were usually because people didn’t want to pay back their loans at all. Charges of usury? Heretic! Especially easy if the money-lenders were Jewish (see England and Spain), but harder if it’s Cardinal your borrowing from. (It is this environment, some historians argue, helped precipitate St. Francis’s conversion, because the rebounding economy was making MORE poor people, not less, especially in the cities.)

    There are still usury laws on the books, because the US recognizes that excessive interest rates are BAD for the economy. Do these laws look like the usury laws from the middle ages? No. Has the concept of usury become outdated? No. Should the structure and actions of unions account for nuiances of the localized situation? Absolutely. I would hope unions look different in France than in the US. I would hope that unions don’t look exactly like they did in 1900. Is the concept of a group of workers advocating for themselves outdated? I really hope not.

  • Mary

    Manny, my response above was written before your link. I have a major problem with this statement: “A major obstacle to the growth of banks in the Middle Ages was the Church’s prohibition of usury, the charging of interest on loans.” There WERE no banks… the precursors of banks as we know them were invented in the middle ages. Most loans that were made prior to the 1200s were private. This source you cite gives the impression that there were banks struggling to make it, if only the church had just let them lend with interest. See my second paragraph about the growth of the cities and rebounding economy… all the developments that your source cites in the second main paragraph happened AFTER the economy was already rebounding, due to increasing societal stability. Other than that the source you cited is ok, but is a very basic account of a small part of medieval Europe’s economic history.

  • http://NA Lorraine

    Getting back to the teachers’ strike….I can’t help but wonder if future school closings are the underlying issues of uncertainty for job security for the current teachers in Chicago. The charter schools, from what I understand, are nonunion. And I recently read in my local newspaper that there is a movement in the United States that supports charter schools. I don’t know much about that either but I’d like to know more. There are many issues that are not local to Chicago teachers in regards to the closing of schools. I think we need to look at the broader picture to see where public education is going in our country and if unions will continue to be the essential ‘mainstay’ that some rely on. Interesting topics for ongoing discussions.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Some years ago, when I was working in a bookstore, the bus workers union went on strike, for months—thereby stranding thousands of workers, who had no other way of getting to work. a lot of them lost their jobs. A lot of them begged, borrowed or somehow managed to get their hands on cars (car sales went up a lot, in the affected county!). They had to, in order to keep their jobs.

    (And people wonder why more Americans don’t use public transportation.)

    The unions are not for working Americans. They’re for their own members, and their own members, only. Everybody else can go take a hike. Are workers stranded, because of a bus strike? Are they having a hard time shopping, because the grocery stores are all on strike? Are schoolkids missing out on school, because of striking teachers? Too bad, the unions want more, and they want it now. The rich have their own modes of transportation, their own, private schools. When the unions pull this kind of stunt, it’s other working Americans they’re pulling it against. That’s the long and the short of it. All the talk about what did, or didn’t happen in the Middle Ages is entertaining, but. . . . well, um. . . it’s entertaining. . .

    The unions don’t care. That’s it, in a nutshell.

  • Manny

    I’m not going to claim to be an expert on the history. Whether the ban on lending for Christians was justified or not and what that impact was to the economy of the middle ages, I’ll let historians and especially economic historians debate. What is indisputable is that (1) the Church banned ALL lending from Christians as usury and (2) the Church re-assessed and changed it’s position. What that says is that the Church does not have infallable insight as to economic policy, and neither does it have with whether unions are the only means to achieve worker dignity. That’s my point.

    Does the Church support the corruption that has gone along with unions? Does the Church go along with the process where unions prevent the hiring of more workers when it’s not in the union’s favor? Does the Church go along with the notion that a bad employee cannot be fired if his work performance is not adequate? Does the Church go along with the notion that a worker doesn’t have the right to work if he doesn’t join a union? Does the Church go along with union bosses earning six figure salaries? Does the Church go along with the notion that a company cannot move its business for a more advantageous business environment if unions disagree? Unions of and by themselves are not an absolute moral entity.

    As I said, the Church would benefit itself if laid out the criteria of dignity and morality and let society figure out how to best achieve it. I’m not saying the Church should be against unions, but neither should they be for them. If a society decides that is the best means of achieving worker dignity then by all means. I humbly think that unions by and large are a detriment to today’s society.

  • Mary


    My entire reasoning for going into the history was simply because you brought it up, and, I believe, you were using a faulty historical understanding of usury (see this small sampling of Church Fathers and Thomas Aquinas on usury: http://www.fordham.edu/Halsall/sbook1j.asp#Economic Thought) to build an argument with Church teaching on organized labor. The fact that there are still laws against usury today, even if our exact definition of usury has changed in the last 1000 years, shows that people trying to make a living for themselves and their family can still and are still being taken advantage of by those ith money and power.

    The church has never said that unions, or to use perhaps a more neutral and broad term, organized labor, is the only way that worker justice can be acheived. However, unions are one way that the Church has agreed to and consistently stated over the last 120 years, despite changing economic conditions, play a valuable role in ensuring justice for workers. As for the rhetorical questions you asked, of course the church doesn’t condone those behaviors, and has never argued that everything a union has done has been correct, but that doesn’t mean that the fundamental right of workers to advocate for themselves — the most basic definition of a union and part of the definition of subsidiary — is somehow defunct, just because of those abuses. As for your last paragraph, I’m going to strive for nuance here, :) I think, to a certain extent you are correct. The church has laid out that moral criteria: that workers have the right to advocate for themselves for a living wage and all sorts of other things, and one good way to do that is through a union. I think that if the church started stepping in and stating which unions met their criteria and which did not, then they would be overstepping their bounds, but, given the churches stance on subsidiary, what we should be advocating for is not the end of unions, but the reform of them along lines of true worker and social justice, not simply ‘what more can we get.’

  • Matty J

    Hey Elizabeth! I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now and love it. I wanted post here because I live near Chicago, and taught in a CPS charter school last year. I’ve also been corresponding with a friend who’s currently teaching in CPS. She’s definitely upset with lots of the news coming out on the strike. Apparently the $75k includes admin and other positions which is skewing the salaries high (I haven’t verified this). The 16% over 4 years is about a 4% raise each year, and considering inflation is around 3% that’s not too terrible. To other big issues that are being fought over is caps on class size and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel wants to increase the length of the school day but not pay for it. Not to say the union is an angel but this is Chicago, and nothing is that simple here…

    [nothing may be simple -- and I am someone who believes that GOOD teachers should be well-compensated -- but a 4% raise a year (thanks, I can do math! :-) Simple math, anyway) may not sound like "much" but in the private sector we're not getting raises at all. At all. We're seeing our benefits cut and we have no job security. If we do a lousy job, we're out. Good teachers have all of my sympathy. But too many bad teachers are still employed (making it hard for people who really want to teach to get a job) and frankly, if the rest of the country isn't getting raises, I don't know why people paid by taxpayers, should -admin]

  • Kathleen

    Having seen union abuses of my Dad I avoided teacher unions for the better part of my career but the insanity of “educational reforms” drove me to a teachers’ union for legal protection from abusive administrations and crazy parents. “Waiting for Superman” and all anti-teacher press was the final straw.
    Teacher are NOT fighting for lower standards only reasonable evaluations. If a teacher works above and beyond but her students don’t do their work, should the teacher have her salary cut when it becomes tied to the standardized tests scores. I think a yearly standardized test is reasonable but not benchmark and practice tests wasting weeks of instructional time. We are teaching the tricks to pump up scores but not really how to think or create.
    Teachers do fight for things that help the students like smaller class size and removing violent disruptive students. I really question the reports of teacher salaries in the range of $70,000s in Chicago. I assumed the cost of living there would make it higher than in Texas, but a recent transplant teacher in my building says they were paid a lot less than our salaries in the $40,000s. Those “big” pensions not funded directly from tax payers but are taxes taken from a teacher’s paycheck. My retired friends all need second jobs to survive on teacher retirement. The “educational experts” selling new tests and charters schools to the politicians are the ones wasting tax dollars.
    I unions and school politics are both hiding some corrupt these days, but society needs them as a check and balance. Professionals in the public sector striking does seen wrong to me. What if the teachers taught the students but boycotted all the political or petty paperwork like roll taking for school funding, grading papers and posting them on-line, etc. The kids would be cared for and learning while they negotiated.
    No easy answers but I sure wouldn’t trust a deal with Rahm Emmanuel would you?

  • Kathleen

    Oops I need my red pen for a couple typos and a grammar mistakes. Forgive a tired teacher’s typing.

  • Manny

    Are you claiming that what I said here is not true?

    “What is indisputable is that (1) the Church banned ALL lending from Christians as usury and (2) the Church re-assessed and changed it’s position.”

    Anyway, we’ve probably reached the end of the line in our discussion. Poor Anchoress must be going crazy reading us debating the middle ages when she was just criticizing the teacher’s strike…lol. Peace be with you and all those we’ve bored with our discussion. :)