Examiner Local Editorial: Why are teachers' strikes legal anywhere?

Opinion,Local Editorial

The city of Chicago has filed an injunction against the teacher strike that currently has Chicago Public Schools' 350,000 students idling for a second week. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is calling on a judge to declare the strike illegal under the city's collective bargaining laws.

He may well prevail due to the technical and legal fine points regarding the conditions under which teachers can strike. But the city also put forward a few arguments in its legal brief that highlight the damage the strike is doing, irrespective of which side is correct or will prevail.

First, Emanuel argues that the strike is illegal because it is endangering the students by leaving them out on his city's increasingly dangerous streets. The city's brief states that "CPS students, like students in many urban areas, are at risk of violence when they are not in school. No CPS student has been a victim of gun violence in a CPS school since at least 2007. Simply put, when students are not in school, they are decidedly less safe and more likely to be victims of gun violence than when they are in school."

Second, the city argues that lunch food is spoiling because of the teachers' walkout, and that families dependent on school lunches will be hard-pressed to feed their families with their food stamp allotments. The school district is also facing the loss of $1.25 million in funding from the Department of Agriculture for its school lunch program. Unmentioned in the city's brief is the fact that thousands of working families have had to scramble to arrange care for younger children -- at least inconvenient, and in most cases extremely expensive.

These concerns arise in every teachers' strike, just or unjust. So why are teacher strikes even legal in Illinois -- or anywhere else? At least 23 states forbid strikes by teachers and/or all government employees, including such liberal bastions as Vermont, Delaware, Massachusetts, Washington State and the District of Columbia.

Labor disputes in those places still exist, but they are settled without strikes. Those who walk out on the job, creating the many public nuisances inherent in teachers' strikes, are punished. And taxpayers avoid being punished twice -- first by the strike and then by the increased costs incurred in its resolution.

Lawmakers everywhere should examine whether the perceived good of allowing public educators to strike outweighs the welfare of children, of poor families, and of the safety of the cities they live in.

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