September 8, 2012

Chicago Teachers May Strike on Monday; News Coverage Doesn’t Disclose Their Current Pay, Initial Demands

Less than 48 hours from now, Chicago’s teachers, whose union head insists, as quoted by the Associated Press, that “we are here to negotiate for better schools in Chicago,” may walk off the job, leaving the children entrusted to them to languish in half-days of activities unrelated to learning “staffed by non-union and central office workers.”

There seems to be an unwritten rule that news coverage of these matters not discuss the current earnings of those who are threatening to strike. In a writeup of over 900 words, AP writers Tammy Webber and Don Babwin stuck to that script, and also failed to tell their readers the size of the raise union negotiators initially requested. Those two figures follow the jump.

As to earnings, CBS 2 in Chicago said the following in a June story:

A day after Chicago Public Schools’ teachers overwhelmingly authorized a strike, CBS 2 wanted to know how much the average teacher earns.

As CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov found out, it depends on who you ask.

Salary figures provided by the Chicago Public Schools show teachers here have the highest average salary of any city in the nation. But, according to the Chicago Teachers Union’s calculations, Chicago teachers would rank second behind New York City.

A Chicago Public Schools spokesperson said average pay for teachers, without benefits, is $76,000.

But a Teachers Union attorney said the number provided by CPS doesn’t tell the whole story.

… By comparison, teachers in New York City earn an average of $73,751. That would be less than the average $76,000 average salary for Chicago teachers cited by CPS, but more than the $71,000 average cited by the union. Depending on which is accurate, Chicago would either be first or second in the nation in average teacher salary.

At the time, the Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke reported the size of the raise the union initially requested, and estimated how high members’ new level of annual earnings would be based on the union’s $71,000 figure just cited (links are in original):

Chicago Teachers Union Demands 30 Percent Pay Raise

It takes a lot of nerve to ask for a 30 percent pay raise. You’d better be sure you had a banner year. Yet in Chicago, where just 15 percent of fourth graders are proficient in reading (and just 56 percent of students graduate), the teachers union is set to strike if the district does not agree to a 30 percent increase in teachers’ salaries.

The average teacher in Chicago Public Schools—a district facing a $700 million deficit—makes $71,000 per year before benefits are included. If the district meets union demands and rewards teachers with the requested salary increase, education employees will receive compensation north of $92,000 per year.

According to the Illinois Policy Institute, the average annual income of a family in Chicago is $47,000 per year. If implemented, the 30 percent raise will mean that in nine months, a single teacher in the Chicago Public School system will take home nearly double what the average family in the city earns in a year.

While the union bemoans the longer school day and is demanding a hefty pay raise as a result, taxpayers will be left holding the bill for a 30 percent salary increase and wondering whether $92,000 is appropriate compensation for public school employees.

I don’t have to wonder. It’s not.

The AP’s Webber and Babwin merely reported that “Only weeks ago, it sought a 19 percent raise in the first year of the contract.” The Chicago Tribune’s Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah reported this morning that “(Teacher Union President Karen) Lewis declined to say Friday how much it had come down from its call for a 19 percent raise in the contract’s first year.”

The AP pair wouldn’t tell its readers how much Chicago’s teachers currently earn. That also goes for the Tribune story just cited, as well as this morning’s Chicago Sun-Times story, where Rosalind Rossi notes that “the union is ‘standing firm’ on the 12:01 a.m. Monday deadline and will not ask delegates to push back the strike date.”

Especially in a state and city which have both become fiscal basket cases, readers trying to evaluate the reasonableness of the union’s demands need to know what members now earn. It’s irresponsible journalism not to disclose that information. One can’t help but think that part of the motivation for non-disclosure has to do with the fact that many journalists are also members of unions.

Cross-posted at


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