In a democratic union you can’t short circuit democracy. Even in Chicago.


Chicago, 2012. Photo: Fred Klonsky

Over these next few days members of the Chicago Teachers Union will be voting once again on whether to authorize their leadership to call a strike against the unelected managers of our city’s school system.

Strikes and strike authorization votes are part of the collective bargaining process. This vote is probably the most important part of the process. It does two things:

It makes every member a direct participant in the process.

It demonstrates the members’ support for their union and their union’s elected leaders.

Although I write about teaching and teacher unions and cover teacher union strikes, I mostly never comment of whether teachers should accept or reject a contract that I personally don’t have to work under.

Unlike those that sit in the fancy media offices downtown, I  believe whether a contract is accepted or rejected is a decision  that is owned by those directly represented at the bargaining table.

It was just a few years ago that Stand For Children’s Jonah Edelman, a guy who thought he was way too clever by half, got the Illinois legislature to pass a law requiring Chicago union teachers, and only Chicago union teachers, to vote by a 75% super majority in order to authorize a strike.

He told his friends that he had studied union strike authorization votes and that 75% was some kind of magic number.

He was wrong in 2012 and he was wrong last year.

He never understood that in a democratic union, you can’t short circuit democracy.

Even in Chicago.

17 Replies to “In a democratic union you can’t short circuit democracy. Even in Chicago.”

  1. Tier One takes lots of money from the pension fund each year;
    Tier Two makes contributions that they know will disappear;
    Fred’s pension is protected by the judges without fear
    ‘Cause the Union makes Fred strong.
    Solidarity forever, etc.

    1. I agree. The thing is I stood on the IEA convention floor years ago and battled – with just a few other voices – the state union leadership to try to stop them from changing our position on pensions, against letting the legislature mess with the pension structure. And funny thing. You weren’t there. Or at least I never heard you. I have been fighting against the two tier system ever since. But where have you been? You’re just a shit talker. A bogus cowboy. All hat. No horse. Stick to poetry and rhymes.

      1. You don’t know me, Fred, and it’s unlikely we’ll meet — at the barricades or elsewhere. I’m a simple blue-collar pragmatist whose been mugged by reality. Unions have served their purpose, from the IWW to the UAW. They’ve packed the legislatures and the courts. But the times, they are a’changin’. After GM and Chrysler, the private sector (management and workers) have figured it out. Calvin Coolidge had it figured out with the Boston police strike. There is no right to strike against the public interest. A teachers’ strike may stir your heart and get the old arteries pulsating, but IF they strike, it’s for you and yours … not for the children and not for themselves. Your numbers are dwindling but you still talk loud. WJB (Calvin Coolidge contemporary) was “born with a roaring voice, and it had the trick of inflaming half-wits.” See But there is a time to stop the name-calling and engage on the merits. You have been watching too much Donald Trump. Political and economic problems are not ultimately solved by bellowing partisans, but by a process of give and take. See James Madison or Barack Obama. Walter Reuther and Jimmy Hoffa RIP. Your goat is much too easy to get. Less strident would be more effective.

  2. Dear Joe,
    Invested retiree earnings are what created the pension fund. Why shouldn’t retirees expect to get their earned and owed compensation back in the form of a pension (that they were promised and paid for)?

    The fact that the city and the state are overcharging Tier 2 teachers to pay back the unfunded liability is clearly unfair. But no retiree invented Tier 2. It was a “gift” from the General Assembly, the I.E.A. and Governor Quinn. It was instituted so those who had promised to pay pensions could welsh out on what they owe by overcharging teachers in Tier 2.

    It is unfortunate that you see this as an opportunity to rip on Fred. I don’t see you standing up to those who actually shafted newer teachers with Tier 2. Did you ever even try? Start fighting your own battles instead of blaming others for what you have lost. Try confronting those “leaders” who did this to you. You look foolish sniping at someone who actually tried to stop it.

  3. These comments always begin with I am a democrat or supposedly a worker and they end up sounding like the IPI….also the guy that runs that Springfield blog is a republican who regularly trashes Karen.

  4. Just for fun, google Joe Hillstrom King. (What an insult to the memory of Joe Hill) I wonder if the name choice was an intended “inside” joke or if it was really Mr. King.

    If, in fact, the person who wrote the comment to Fred was King, being mugged by reality is an understatement. And he is certainly not “blue collar”.

    If it was not him, I agree with Dave, Just another tool of the 1% licking the boots of his master.

  5. Long on clichéd insults; short on substance. Trump has ripped chapters from that book. He may win and you may win also but circumstances of Illinois and Chicago and the students will continue to decliine until we meet at the table rather than the barricade. This is because the propless’ resources have to be used by our representatives for all the people. (Ironically, if Trump wins I think that precludes teachers winning, although certainly there’ll be no cutbacks of police pensions.)

    In [y]our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold
    Greater than the might of armies magnified a thousandfold
    [You] can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old
    For the Union makes [you] strong.

    Look at the facts rather than First Tier self-interest. Compare youselves to the average voter and consider that the “hoarded gold” belongs to the pension system (accumulated for ALL educators) or to the taxpayers … many of whom vote. I don’t think you want bankruptcy because that would result in equitable cutbacks based on the governments’ future ability to sustain the unsustainable. Delegate a few grown-ups to talk with your counterparts. Don’e demonize every leader who does not share your agenda and don’t insult every commenter who would like to see the problems solved fairly. Or do; it’s currently a free country.

    Joe Hill died a hundred years ago … perhaps executed, perhaps murdered. There are problems now that can’t be solved via tantrums in the streets or endless litigation.

    1. Joe Hillstrom King,
      Understand one thing: The “unfunded liability,” the State’s debt to the five pension systems, most of it to TRS, was not the result of “generous pension benefits.” On the contrary, it was the deliberate underfunding of the pension systems for decades by our General Assemblies and governors so that they didn’t have to raise state taxes, even gradually. In other words, our State government used the pension systems as a “credit card.” The underfunding is a synonym for accumulated debt that has to be repaid to the pension systems with interest at some time. Jim Edgar’s (R), Lee Daniel’s (R), and Pate Phillip’s (R) “pension ramp” in 1995 that increased the State’s debt to the pension systems three-fold made the situation even worse. (Look up Illinois’ pension ramp 1995)

      Again, for the umpteenth time + 1, pension benefits did not create the “unfunded liability” and cutting benefits isn’t going to fix anything. Cutting pensions will have little to no impact on Illinois’ fiscal woes. Get to the root of the problem: Illinois decades old regressive tax structure that never produced enough revenue to cover the State’s expenses. Lack of revenue through low State taxes caused our lawmakers to go where the money was / is: the pension systems. The disgraceful 22% or so of current Illinois’ revenue that’s going to cover the accumulated State pension debt is the result of decades long underfunding, using the pension systems as a “credit card.” Thank our lawmakers and governors for that mega-boner, but don’t blame the retired or active public employees who played by the rules.

      Pitting pensioners against the rest of Illinois’ citizenry isn’t going to solve the problem either. All that will do is to satisfy your seeming lust to stick it to Illinois’ pensioners. That’s the sign of a sociopath, not a problem solver.

      1. The person who comments here as “Joe Hillstrom King” responded to Karl, but in a way I believed crossed the line of civil discourse. I will not post it or any further comments from him that are like that.

    2. “Joe’s true colors are finally exposed.

      Just so you know, about 9 % of active teachers in Illinois belong to Tier 2. (25,000 or so) About 91% of active teachers are Tier 1 (134,000 estimated). There are are about 275,000 retirees and survivors collecting pensions. The “hoarded gold” as you call it belongs to those who earned it and paid it in. It does not belong to “Joe” or to taxpayers. Teachers “own” the money in the pension funds. It stopped being taxpayer money when it was paid to the teachers. They earned it.

      The state and the city (as employers) didn’t pay in all the money teachers earned into these funds (like they were supposed to). They shorted the amount and said they would pay later. That is the unfunded liability. The teacher contributions that were paid into C.T.P.F. and T.R.S. were invested to make more money. Everything in the funds is what teachers paid in, and the interest on that money when invested.

      Are the Tier 2 people being cheated? Absolutely! By the General Assembly and C. P. S., supported by people like Joe who see teachers as public serfs. That fact has nothing to do with paying retiree pensions. Tier 2 teachers are being forced to pay more money to T.R.S. or C.T.P.F. than their benefits are worth. It reduces the unfunded liability so the state and the city can pay less than the 61 Billion dollars they owe to the retirees and Tier 1 active teachers.

      “Joe” is uninformed about bankruptcy. It is unavailable to Chicago or the state. Even if it were, an honest evaluation of debt to assets would show that both Illinois and Chicago would not be able to file. They are really nowhere near insolvent unless they want to be.

      Public officials divide their assets and money into different piles. One pile will be underfunded while others get more than needed. Then a crisis will declared because there is a shortage in one pile.

      People like “Joe” will demand that public employee not be paid all they have earned. They will say “be reasonable” (knuckle under and take less than what is owed you). Meanwhile, “insiders” like bond holders, road contractors, and favored vendors will continue to profit undisturbed at the public trough. None of them are ever even asked to take less. Their contracts are “sacred” but ours are not.

      There is plenty of money for the things politicians want, and no money for anyone or anything else. This continues until someone finally says No! and forces a change. Refuse to believe in the manufactured crisis. Say No!

      What will really happen if the pension funds become insolvent? The Illinois Supreme Court has already decided. Pensions will become “pay as you go”, funded out of general revenues before ANY other debt can get paid. (that is what bond holders, contractors and vendors are really worried about) The state of Illinois and the City of Chicago will have to pay retirees before they can pay their “insiders”. Hence the intimidation campaign by people like Joe.

      “Joe” should take some of his own advice. Adults pay what they owe. Children make excuses.

  6. Once the pension fund is out of money, you are correct that the sponsor (city, school board, etc.) is obliged (according to the supreme court) to put money in directly. But if the sponsor does not put money in, or doesn’t have the money, you will have to sue them. You can only sue them for the payments you have missed. There is no “acceleration clause” as you have with a promissory note. You will have to sue repeatedly and then collect repeatedly. Once there is no pension fund from which the lawyers can be paid, you will either to have to find willing pro bono service or hire a collection lawyer who will get 1/3. You will have to find assets to attach and foreclose on them.

    I am happy to concede that legislators and governors failed to budget or appropriate then-required contributions. As we now know, those required contributions seem to have been understated by compliant actuaries who’d been selected by venal trustees. Teachers and others were misled by venal CPAs. Bond lawyers facilitated added debt by going along with inadequate disclosure. Most of these malefactors are immune from lawsuit or prosecution. But even if they were sued successfully, they lack the resources to fix the underfunding problem. Their malpractice policies have liability limits. Statutes of limitation have expired.

    It’s these realities that (to me) suggest a negotiated solution … not animus toward the victims nor affection for politicians or taxpayers. The devil’s advocate is not the devil.

  7. Dear “Joe”.

    I can see you have a real need to fantasize about how retired teachers might not be paid pensions they have earned and are owed. Your assertions about “running out of money” are based upon the false premise of insufficient money being available to pay what is owed. The idea that Illinois and Chicago cannot pay what has been promised is patently false. The total debt is about 1.5% of the state’s yearly GDP. A more accurate statement is that politicians don’t want to pay what they owe, and would rather spend the money on other things.

    T.R.S. made a projection in 2013 of how long benefits could be paid using only present assets held by the system. Insolvency of teacher pension funds (given no resolution) was projected for around 2030, not today. Present assets would fund full pension payments with NO new money paid into the fund for at least 12 years. The Supreme Court has repeatedly warned that it will not wait for this insolvency to happen before taking action to enforce payment of pension obligations.

    No suit is necessary. The court would be petitioned (by someone like I.R.T.A.) and a Writ of Mandamus issued ordering continuing payment of benefits. All other government expenditures would be encumbered unless and until payments begin. Failure to comply by any official would be a criminal, as well as a civil issue.

    Your flights of fancy may frighten uninformed pensioners. They have no basis in reality. The arguments you present are no more accurate than your “bankruptcy fantasies”. This debt is ultimately owed by the state. It will be paid.

  8. TRS projections are based on inaccurate 2013 actuarial assumptions. According to a recent analysis of CALPERS, actual costs of paying promised public pensions may be 4X ro 7X greater than what has been &/or is being set aside to fund them. Depends on investment returns and life expectancy.

    Facts will be what they will be. We can meet here again in five years and see who’s right. My comments are more anxieties than fantasies since my own economic future depends on pension and health benefits from a teachers’ pension system. My persistence is based on my perception that demonizing and insulting those who disagree wth you is counter-productive. It is, however, the way of the world as seen in some sectors.

    It will take a few years to find out whether a court will shut down the government and jail officials in order to pay public pensions. The Supreme Court of Washington (State) is fining the legislature $100,000 per day for not enacting an education finance act that suits the court. The fine is not being paid. The law has not been passed. How are we doing in compliance with laws and court rulings about segregated schools and veterans’ medical care? How well are we controlling carbon emissions? Tell me again about the success of reforms in police behavior, gun possession or improvement of student performance in urban elementary schools.

    Teachers (retired or active) and public emplolyees generally need allies not adversaries. Strikes or sick-outs don’t build alliances.

    Yada yada.

    1. So, “Joe”,
      You say your “future depends on pension and health benefits from a teacher’s pension system.” Man, that is some great word parsing. Let’s pretend for a moment that you were an actual teacher (I know, my friends. But just go with me for a moment). Did you find that when you were teaching that repeating the same thing over and over again with nothing new added was an effective pedagogic technique?

  9. Dear Fred,
    I see you are still having fun with “Joe”. Mind if I join in? His determination to ignore any reality but his own is pretty amazing A true legend in his own mind. I went back to review his adventures in fiction land. They were truly spectacular.

    Lets see… Picks the name of a famous union leader an an inside insult. Tries to pit Tier 1 people against Tier 2 people as part of an anti union rant. Infers the inequities are something Fred was a party to, Tries to wield the discredited bankruptcy threat. (Looks foolish.)

    Claims he’s a “mugged” blue collar pragmatist. (what does that mean?) Holds up Calvin Coolidge (who some blame for the Great Depression) as a pillar civic responsibility for demanding an end public strikes. Rips on union members for standing up for themselves (how dare they strike!). Declares Unions are useless and outdated. Says worker leadership should be passive instead of “strident” and calls giving in “give and take”. (Should have worn his I.P.I. button.)

    Feels insulted that his ideas are not accepted as gospel, even though they bear little connection to reality. Claims ownership of funds that pensioners paid as “taxpayer money” (doesn’t know the difference between consumption and remuneration.) Thinks voters should decide what teachers can buy (pensions) with their own earnings. Throws out the old “unsustainable” argument. (doesn’t understand compound interest). Talks about bankruptcy like it could actually happen in Illinois (bond holders would cringe). Argues like a child. He never even considers the many ways he has already been refuted. He just throws out the next “talking point” and tells others to be more adult. (Looking a little O.C.D. here).

    Apparently “Joe” now insults another poster to the point that Fred refuses to publish it. Karl must have got under his skin with the truth.

    The actual data about Tier 1 and Tier 2 numbers are posted. No response from “Joe”. Bankruptcy fallacy refuted. No response from “Joe”. Fund games explained. No response. The actual procedure the Supreme Court says it will follow if the state fails to pay pensions is presented. “Joe” says it will never happen. “Joe” decides the information presented is inaccurate, even though he produces nothing to refute it.

    He thinks the state treasury cannot possibly pay the 4 billion dollars of pension checks issued each year out of a revenue stream of over 52 billion dollars. “Joe” does try to use an unresolved issue of a fine in Washington state as an example of how mandamus would fail.

    I guess that is the reason he thinks the courts here could never succeed with mandamus (even though they have already done it here in the past). He will join us in 5 years to see if he was right. “Joe” then rattles off a list of social problems that he thinks are intractable and claims it as evidence that pensions won’t be paid. (the sky must be falling)

    Fred, I think you have been patient enough. Whoever this guy is, (masquerading as a teacher) there isn’t enough tinfoil in the world to make a hat that can protect him from facts and reality he disapproves of. Only he can define the truth. We must just sit and accept it. (Perhaps he thinks he is an oracle and can divine the future?)

    The good news here is that if “Joe” represents the opposition, The opposition needs some work. He is persistent and long winded, but pretty weak. He has served his purpose as a foil. Time to let the troll move on.

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