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Strikes

One strike underway in Chicago, and one imminent in Lake Forest, bring to mind two strikes from the past and their lasting effects. For one LFHS parent, finding a solution is the most important thing.

Reading about the current strike in Chicago and the impending one here, I’m reminded of two that I experienced from different perspectives. One was a strike of clerical and technical workers at the university where I was working in my mid-20s. I was an editor at a research project and thus classified as “managerial and professional,” but it was work that was made enjoyable by productive and cordial relations with the “c+t” workers, some of whom had become my friends. I was lucky to be able to avoid crossing the picket line by working at home, but the office itself wasn’t able to function. What I remember from the episode was the lasting rancor and the enduring hostility of the staffers toward the administration. I believe the strike hastened the departure of the president and led to union relations becoming paramount in the trustees’ strategy. Peer institutions, seeing how polarizing the strike was on our campus, surely followed suit and made labor issues priorities in their presidential choices. To what extent has this dynamic contributed to the skyrocketing cost of college tuitions? Hard to say but worth pondering.

Striking teachers remind me of an earlier strike. We’d just moved back to Philadelphia and I was set to start 10th grade at an academically selective top-notch public “magnet” school, the kind I was lucky to get into after floundering in a less-challenging private school. But the teachers went on strike at the beginning of the year, and it was a long one, distressing for a kid new to town and eager to jump into a new academic setting. One think I remember: the school district arranged for TV feeds of lessons, which I found too awful to watch. The biology presentations were given by the teacher whom I had once the strike was over, and his in-class teaching was as excellent as his all-district monologues were dreary. The realization that I’d missed weeks of superior instruction because the city and the union couldn’t come to an agreement rankled me.

Decades later, I’m an educator myself, and the parent of a child whose teachers will most likely be on strike. My child is as lucky as I was, because we have a faculty of dedicated mentors who’ve made LFHS the best school it can be. We have a board that cares about the quality of our school but also knows the limits of available funds. We have residents who understandably are going to resist, in their rhetoric and their voting patterns, increases in taxes. I envy no party in this dilemma, nor do I propose a way out of it. All I know is how harsh a work environment can be after a strike, and how important it is for teachers to know that residents, and especially the parents of their students, appreciate all they do. With time winding down, I hope that those involved in the negotiations will keep our kids in mind and find a way to avert the ugly situation that’s just begun in the city.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Hmmmm6 September 10, 2012 at 07:30 PM
All parties, Gary, including the public, need to take that notion to heart. Let's encourage the parties to get to work. Both sides have taken some unfortunate positions. Our new teachers with a masters degree will make only 85% of what comparably educated teachers at Niles will make. Nobody likes paying taxes, but that is a differential that makes a difference to applicants. I am bothered by the tone of the public communications by all the parties and both sets of proposals, and I hope that both parties will work hard to avoid a strike.
Gary September 10, 2012 at 07:44 PM
Hmmmm6, The teachers are the ones refusing to take a good offer in rough economic circumstances. They are the ones willing to destroy this town for no good reason. They are the ones unwilling to compromise. They have engaged in a scorched earth campaign to get what they want with no concern for our children or the caustic atmosphere it will bring to our community. People are trying to paint them as victims, when they are the perpetrators of this disaster. The rancor did not exist until the teachers decided to strike. You don't like the tone? Exactly who is it that is shutting down our schools? The teachers have set the tone, not the school board, not the parents, not the taxpayers, and not those posting on the Patch. What kind of response to this kind of belligerence would meet with your approval? I am a big fan of giving credit where credit is due. But the flip side of that is that I put the blame where the blame is due. The teachers deserve ALL the blame for this mess. All of it.
Ralph Keen September 10, 2012 at 07:58 PM
Let's avoid insisting that a mess has taken place and placing the blame on one party in it. A strike will be the mess, and it can still be averted, either by compromise or capitulation. Principled resistance at this late stage will only trigger a strike and cause lasting harm.
Walter White September 10, 2012 at 08:05 PM
Very good. There are many companies and public entities who understand how to work with labor unions. You have to listen, communicate, and treat the other party as valued colleagues. Only then can you truly move forward and resolve your differences.
Gary September 10, 2012 at 08:18 PM
I agree. To avoid this strike, the teachers should drop their principled resistance, take the compromise on the table and capitulate. That's what you meant, right? OK, enough word play. It all boils to this: The school board better have damn good reasons for letting negotiations get all the way to a strike... and they do. They have presented their case and it is sound. Likewise, the teachers better have damn good reasons for striking... and they don't. They have not presented a single sane reason that can justify the destructive course they've chosen... and I noticed you didn't present one either. The onus is on the teachers to show us why things are so bad for them that they need to strike. Until they do, the community should pressure them to change course and accept the offer on the table. That is what I am doing, Ralph. I am trying to avoid a strike. You on the other hand are trying to guilt the tax payers into capitulating to unreasonable demands.
Ralph Keen September 10, 2012 at 08:34 PM
No, Gary, I'm keeping to myself which side I support and am trying to be non-partisan here. By no means am I suggesting that the residents should cave. At the same time, the teachers are being attacked for what their representatives are doing at the table. Unions, maybe all collectives, tend to silence the dissenters in their midst. There are teachers who are happy with what they have and want to teach, but we won't know who they are. I just don't want to see them all demonized by this affair.
Walter White September 10, 2012 at 08:38 PM
This article is a little too intellectual and foreign to Gary. If it's not a left vs right debate, he's lost.
Ralph Keen September 10, 2012 at 08:48 PM
Walter, I never lose hope that win-win solutions are out there. Our situation is very different from the one in Chicago, where it might be easier to support one side or the other. Here we have teachers making quite handsome salaries (some of them much more than full professors at universities), in a community where kids get picked up after school in Porsches. A stranger would have to ask, is this really about money? (And I'd try to explain that it probably isn't.)
Gary September 10, 2012 at 08:50 PM
Likewise I don't want to see residents who make a principled stand for fiscal responsibility demonized either. I am not demonizing teachers. I am merely putting the blame where the blame should go. I am of two minds regarding the teachers trapped in the union. On one hand I sympathize with the helplessness they must feel being part of an authoritarian organization which forces them to do things they don't want to do, or donate money to causes they don't condone. But on the other hand I can't respect someone who lacks the courage to make a principled stand against things they know are wrong. These people stand by and let the rest of us take the hits while they pretend to have nothing to do with the trouble caused by the union. At some point, it is their decision to do the right thing. They can't pay dues to an organization and then claim they don't have to answer for that organization's actions.
Walter White September 10, 2012 at 08:58 PM
When people from either side say "it's not about the money" everyone says "it's about the money". In Chicago, the union, the board, and Rahm have all said it's not about money. But people don't want to believe it because it doesn't fit into their narrow view. It's easier to blame one side or the other of being greedy.
John Utah September 10, 2012 at 09:00 PM
At some point taxpayers, whether in LF or other towns, will have to push back against unreasonable demands. Taxpayers being non-partisan, independent, and wishy-washy has gotten us into this situation with powerful public sector unions taking advantage of us. This article reeks of supporting the teachers, which is fine. But sugarcoating it and trying to be "above the fray" and non-partisan is a joke. There is a right side and a wrong side to this issue, as with all others. I understand your concern about the new work environment, but this will be on the teachers. If the Board and taxpayers "win", us taxpayers will still like the teachers and hope to interact with them positively through our children. But will they in return greet us and our kids with the same respect? The historical behavior of unions says otherwise...
Gary September 10, 2012 at 09:00 PM
Aaaaaah, so it isn't about money? I didn't think so. I detect a little class warfare creeping into your discourse there Ralph. Want to come clean now? Well, Ralph and Walter, please explain what the strike is about then. I admit that I can't figure it out. The whole town would love to know why the teachers are striking. We're all waiting ............................................... again. (This is the place where all the reasonable-sounding opposition shuts down and disappears. Let's see what happens this time.)
Walter White September 10, 2012 at 09:03 PM
I don't know about LF. I was talking about Chicago. If the two sides in LF say it's about the money then it's about the money.
Ralph Keen September 10, 2012 at 09:12 PM
Of course it's about money, but the dispute is also ideological, probably more than it would be in a low-income community. The real winners or losers will be the students. And I'm still hoping for a solution.
Gary September 10, 2012 at 09:30 PM
Please explain why this dispute is ideological? Has the board taken an ideological stance? No. They say they've already put a fair pay raise on the table, times are tough, many taxpayers are hurting (the ones without a Porsche, and even some with one), and they need to be fiscally responsible with the local budget. So that leaves the teachers. You must be hinting that THEY are the ones with an ideological axe to grind. Are you accusing them of putting up "principled resistance" to the deal? You seem to know a lot more than you're telling us. Please continue. Why are they doing this? ... and quit beating around the bush. We're running out of time.
Deadcatbounce September 10, 2012 at 09:35 PM
So Hmmmmm6 wants to emulate Niles ... Maine Township School District 207 is looking at a nearly $4 million deficit for its 2011-2012 fiscal year. They are also laying off teachers and not hiring. It's obvious Niles has a problem paying their teachers.
Deadcatbounce September 10, 2012 at 09:36 PM
Examples???
Deadcatbounce September 10, 2012 at 09:37 PM
This is what you call a "False choice"
Hmmmm6 September 10, 2012 at 09:57 PM
No one is demonizing taxpayers. Its fair to care about the money: many families have been touched by job changes recently. That is what the teachers are doing too--they are caring about the money for sure and trying to get their best deal. I think the teachers should consider how hard the economy has been in the last 4 years, and more importantly, how difficult it is likely to be going forward. Projected revenues are just that--projected. The Board should also consider that they, perhaps with Union blessing, are creating a system that will have a divided workplace and we will have difficulty replacing them with the best applicants with that new scale. The teachers also gave the Board a standstill year too, so when we look at those increases, and they are big increases, they should be spread over 4 years. I think both groups need to reflect, but we are getting the bill either way. Somebody has to move--frankly, I don't care which side does, because more than the money, I want my kid to go to school and I also want my kid to see that people with different positions can reach a compromise and move on.. Gary--I am willing to bet you don't have a junior or senior in the last stages of college preparation and its easy to yell courage and principle when your child has more time. You want the best education for your kids, but particularly when they are preparing to leave. I just hope the strike replacements aren't as bad as the NFL replacement referees. They stink.
Me September 10, 2012 at 10:14 PM
@Ralph - Saying that the taxpayers need to continue to negotiate after the School Board has already made a more than generous final offer is saying that eh taxpayers should give in to the hostage taking tactics of the Union. It is about the money. The Union has said it is about the money. For the taxpayers too, it is about the money. The Union is prodding the teachers to dig in their heels because the Union knows that this is probably the thin end of the wedge. This is not about teachers in poverty (most of the teachers earn well into the 6 figure range). The oldtimers are trying to pad their retirements. For them to say it is about the children is a lie. It is about their money.
Gary September 10, 2012 at 10:54 PM
I am sorry to hear that you have a child who will be among the hostages. I wish the teachers weren't threatening to do this to your family. There are options out there though. DeatCat has posted this: “Any child in Illinois can enroll in Chicago Virtual Charter School. It’s a full-time, tuition free public school option that uses the award-winning (for-profit) K-12 curriculum. We use the K-12 curriculum through our children’s enrollment in the Colorado Virtual Academy, and we love it. It has a far more advanced curriculum in math, science, and history than our public brick-and-mortar school.” If your child is a self-motivator, then there's no reason at all to miss a beat. I wish you luck.
Ralph Keen September 10, 2012 at 11:07 PM
I'll share my perspective in greater detail later. Right now I'm for an agreement, no matter how it's reached. If I showed my leanings I'd be contributing to the contentiousness, of which there's enough already.
Gary September 10, 2012 at 11:46 PM
So you put out that beautifully written plea for all of us to just get along, and you claim to know a lot about why the teachers are striking, but you won't tell us. So no supporter of the teachers is willing to defend their position. Another reasonable-sounding person vanishes into the mist. Well Ralph, I look forward to hearing your perspective after the strike is over. And I really want to hear how your new theory of un-principled capitulation will revolutionize the practice of high stakes negotiation, but right now we have a strike looming over our heads and we need to focus on that.
Ralph Keen September 11, 2012 at 03:03 AM
Friends, I had to be away for a few hours. The teachers at LFHS have a reasonable offer on the table and working conditions unmatched anywhere. There are people where I work (who are preparing to teach in the CPS system) who would think they'd died and gone to heaven if they had what instructors in 115 have. LFEA can avert a strike by agreeing to what's been worked out to this point and seeing that benefits packages are not an entitlement program, but supplements that can be reduced as well as enhanced. These are, after all, hard times still. The Board for its part has evidently acted in good faith on behalf of a community that has a strong anti-union element. That negotiations have thus far remained civil (at least in comparison with the rhetoric we're hearing from Chicago) is a minor miracle. The brinksmanship that's going on now threatens that civility, reducing the likelihood of a resolution in the next 26 hours. Seeing "Don't budge!"-type comments here makes me fear that the 115 board will think that they're representing the will of the whole community by being recalcitrant. When I'd said that there was an ideological aspect to this, I was suggesting that the Tea Party-esque faction among Patch commenters were dominating the site. As a moderate (and not someone who wants to buy in to the "class warfare" language), I hope the board recognizes that LFHS is a remarkable school and that supporting our teachers preserves its value as an asset for the LF-LB community.
Hmmmm6 September 11, 2012 at 03:11 AM
@Gary. Thanks for thinking of the kids and I will do my best to keep mine occupied but self motivated and sixteen year olds are not frequently used as a complete thought. Kids need the motivation and social connections of a classroom but I will check out Dead Cat Bounce's suggestion if I the parties don't agree. (Your affinity for keyboard action is inspirational., however) Thanks DCB for the Niles info; the differential may not be sustainable, which is a relief, and Stevenson and New Trier are much closer. I simply can't summon outrage one way or the other; I just want it to be over and the kids in school. Nobody is a demon and nobody need be demonized. My kids' teachers at the high school, with maybe only a couple of exceptions in over 45 teachers total, have been terrific as both teachers and human beings. I just can't blame them and blithely suggest that they be fired and replacements hired, sorry. I don't think they have cushy jobs, and by and large, they are very professional. Maybe that makes me a pansy or squishy, I willingly confess and I wear it as a badge of honor conferred, because I am glad that they have engendered that feeling of gratefulness in both me and my kids. I do wish they weren't striking,.and I understand the Board's obligation to protect the entire community. We just need a locked room. No one comes out for food or breaks until its done. Nobody show up tomorrow night. Let the parties get right down to work and stew in their own juices.
Marcellus White September 11, 2012 at 05:19 AM
Although, I understand that the teachers work hard on the job, many of us do. We all put in long hours, and even overtime. However, unlike the private sector, teachers are payed out of the public coffer. As a underemployed product of the economic downturn it is personally insulting to me that teachers our holding our children's future hostage in order to further drain the system. As long as Public Unions continue to pilfer the state treasure further into debt, all i can do is pray for the future of the state!
RationalTht September 11, 2012 at 02:54 PM
The board should start hiring substitutes and let the current teachers just strike. Current SC rulings state that employers do not have to replace the substitutes with teachers that come back - they can continue to be laid off. Also, the board should LOWER the offer to the teachers to reflect the additional costs the are causing. Let THEM pay for their actions.
RationalTht September 11, 2012 at 03:03 PM
Ok, with PRIVATE sector unions the unions have the incentive not to cause the company to go out of business. With the PUBLIC sector, we can see how well the state is doing "negotiating" with the unions - how long before we go bankrupt? The teachers are the ones that do not accept the new financial reality.
RationalTht September 11, 2012 at 03:06 PM
The only reason the board even put forward the pay scale for "new" employees is because the union would not accept any pay cuts like the taxpayers had to take.
Stevie Janowski September 14, 2012 at 08:18 PM
yo can i get some dat blue stuff? Heisenberg?

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