During the end of its lame-duck session this month, the Illinois state legislature will take a long, hard look at a wide range of educational reforms.
Yesterday, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley weighed in on the debate, with a suggestion that's sure to anger union leaders: prohibit teachers from going on strike.
"You can't give taxpayers money away all the time," Daley said, according to WLS-TV. "It's not my money. It's your money, it's the taxpayers. It's the taxpayers of the city of Chicago."
Daley said that adults shouldn't be allowed to hold children's futures hostage. But he was also hoping to lift one of the union's biggest bargaining chips: the threat of a strike has long been wielded to secure pay raises and other benefits for teachers.
A ban on teacher strikes wouldn't be entirely unprecedented, as the Chicago Tribune wrote in an editorial on the subject last November. Thirty-seven states prohibit their teachers from striking, and police and firefighters are prohibited from doing the same.
In fact, just such a ban is on the table in the State House. The Performance Counts bill currently being considered in that body would strictly limit teachers' abilities to go on strike, according to a Wall Street Journal story:
Now, teachers can strike after negotiations fail. But the proposal would mandate that the two sides go before a mediation panel and give the local school board the final say on whether to accept the mediators' proposal or to impose its own settlement. Unions could strike only if the school board failed to make a final decision.
"The threat of a strike is so significant, it casts a very long shadow over the negotiating process," said Robin Steans, executive director of Advance Illinois, an education-advocacy group that helped craft the proposal. "If you want the other reforms to stick, you have to deal with the strike issue in state law."
If House Democrats passed the measure, it would put additional strain on their relationship with teachers, a traditional base of support for the party. Last year, House Speaker Mike Madigan backed a pension reform bill that limited teacher pensions; the unions didn't donate to his campaign funds last election cycle in protest.
But as the state joins many others around the country pressing for new accountability measures and other educational reforms, the Democratic majority looks poised to deal another blow to the unions this year.