Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Lingering Chicago Teachers' Strike Has Potential To Be Obama's Waterloo And Cost Him A Second Term

Obama is between a rock and a hard place in Chicago. The 26,000 unionized Chicago public school teachers have gone on strike, closed the schools and left 350,000 young children without classes and an education just as the school year was about to begin.

Despite the $1 billion deficit in the school system's operating budget, Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's former chief of staff, offered the teaches a 16 percent pay raise.

If the Chicago strike is not settled quickly and Obama stays on the sidelines, Obama will face the prospect of losing the support of mothers of school children and unionized labor, especially public school teachers, across the country.

If Obama tries to mediate a settlement, he will face sharp criticism for allowing a 16 percent raise to the teachers while there is a Chicago school system budget deficit and for allowing the extra money to go to raises instead of to the hiring of more teachers for smaller class size.

Parents know that Republicans favor school choice, school vouchers and would not tolerate a public school teachers' strike. Strikes do not happen when teachers know children are no longer bargaining leverage and hostages because parents with school choice and vouchers can switch their children into non-striking schools.

A lingering Chicago teachers' strike can force Obama to show his true priorities about education, unions and fiscal restraint. Once Obama is involved and linked to the strike, any solution will upset future Obama voters. If Obama, plays 'present' and stays on the core issue sidelines of the strike, future Obama voters will find him not really serious about education, domestic policy and unacceptable as a second term US leader and president.

If Obama gets involved, even just through public statements, large blocs of voters will see a lack of his support for their position (raises, fiscal restraint, children, education) as a reason to not vote for him. The strike, however resolved, will come up in Romney campaign ads and in the presidential debates. Romney can afford to offend unionized labor in the hope of getting mothers and others on board.

The timing of the strike just a few weeks before the presidential election, and before the debates, could not have been worse for Obama. The Chicago teachers' strike has the potential to do to him what the financial crisis did to McCain in 2008. McCain was leading in the election polls over Obama until the financial crisis occurred.

From The New York Times, "Teachers’ Strike in Chicago Tests Mayor and Union" by By Monica Davey:
CHICAGO — This city found itself engulfed on Monday by a sudden public school strike that left 350,000 children without classes, turned a spotlight on rising tensions nationally over teachers’ circumstances, and placed both the powerful teachers’ union and Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a risky, politically fraught standoff with no clear end in sight.
The strike, Chicago’s first in 25 years and the first in a major city in a half-dozen years, also revealed a rift between unions and Mr. Emanuel, a Democrat and former chief of staff to President Obama, raising the prospect that a lingering strike in the president’s hometown might become an issue in a presidential election year when Democrats depend on the backing of labor.
Mr. Obama on Monday issued no specific reaction to the strike. Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said: "His principal concern is for the students and families who are affected by the situation. And we hope that both sides are able to come together to settle this quickly and in the best interest of Chicago’s students."
School officials said they had made significant concessions in the contract talks, including what would amount to a 16 percent increase for teachers over four years despite what is expected to be a $1 billion deficit in the system’s operating budget next year.
But on Monday, union officials seemed to suggest that the dispute was larger, and included other issues related to benefits, how to calculate raises based on experience level, training days for teachers, and more.

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