The Cost of the Chicago Teachers Union Strike

But it was done for the kids!

The City of Chicago would be better if it never saw Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) president Jesse Sharkey on television again. Chicago residents would be better off if we never saw Sharkey’s chestnut-brown eyes widen with alarm at every CTU proposal rejected by the city, never saw him wearing his blinding-red CTU hoodie sweatshirt, and never heard his pompous, insufferable, self-enthralled, clichéd and uninspiring speeches again. In fact, the Windy City would benefit most if Sharkey would simply vanish into the ether.

A soapbox Marxist, as the chief architect of an 11-day CTU strike and the ensuing deal which will do more to empower the union and increase CTU membership than educate students, Sharkey was briefly transformed into a local celebrity for his dilatory tactics and misleading statements prior to and during the walkout. A strike which revealed the dysfunctional state of public education in Chicago, witnesses to the daily ritual of CTU protests observed the spectacle of school-age children instrumentalized by adults hissing political slogans at bystanders, Left-wing activists carrying banners bearing glib shibboleths wholly unrelated to education, and professional educators howling they are both unrewarded and underappreciated for performing hard, inglorious work.

In forcing Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Janice Jackson to capitulate, Sharkey sealed a negotiated agreement which extols CPS educators employed in a district which consistently underperforms. According to illinoisreportcard.com, of the nearly 106,000 students registered in Chicago School District 299 high schools, an astounding 25 percent of students do not graduate, 11 percent fail to earn a degree over four years, and SAT scores among CPS students lag far behind students in separate school districts throughout the state. In addition to those gloomy statistics, 19 percent of those enrolled as freshmen in CPS secondary schools are not fully prepared for the first year of high school. Across the entire District, of the 631 schools on every level, a mere 11 are declared “exemplary,” 431 are regarded as “commendable,” another 114 are classified as “underperforming,” and the bottom 82 are labeled as “lowest performing.” Worse, one-third of CPS students are habitually truant, one-quarter chronically absent, and dropout rates are ascending. Hardly data Sharkey prefers the public to know, of the 20,900 full-time employees (FTE), 36 percent of educators found a reason to miss more than ten school days of work and approximately ten percent of classroom instructors fail to earn a proficient or excellent rating. All of this, of course, is occurring in a district which pays educators an average annual salary of $74,446, administrators an average salary of $110,862, and spends an average of $13,000 on students.

An agreement which will cost an estimated $1.5 billion over five years, under the terms of the new contract, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) will witness a gradual reduction in class size, a temporary halt to employee contributions for health care plans, and a ceiling on the number of sick days CPS educators can roll over. Similarly, under the negotiated agreement, CPS employees will see bereavement leave expanded to include extended family, and to ease the burden on school counselors and special educators, a nurse and social worker added to every school.

Naturally, the CTU insisted on a raft of absurd demands, most of which, regrettably, were met by city leadership. Through coercive methods, Sharkey was able to extract from Lightfoot ridiculous job protections extended to substitute teachers, and to fulfill an equity demand, gender-neutral language for bathrooms. Moreover, as part of the continuing Sustainable Community Schools program, the school extended the employment for politicized “restorative justice coordinators.” Additional bounty included the city acquiescing to the preposterous CTU demand all CPS buildings and property to be declared sanctuary spaces for students, and a training program for CPS employees to confront U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials attempting to enforce the law. Similarly, the city clicked its heels to the CTU’s call for an end to the practice of hiring nurses from private agencies. A contract not devoid of golden calves, among the most treasured demands the CTU gleaned from its rough-and-tumble tactics was a moratorium on the number of students accepted into charter schools. In another gesture of deference, Lightfoot and Jackson bowed to Sharkey on the joint union-school board commission, which, among other responsibilities, will be charged with “mitigate[ing] or eliminate any disproportionate impacts of observations or student growth measures” (39–1.C.). Last, and what the CTU craved most, a magnanimous 16-percent raise over the next five years was included in the new contract.

What is known about this new contract is bad enough, but while Sharkey and his associates were fleecing Chicago taxpayers, hundreds of thousands of children were experiencing a brief interlude from school. Despite the endless harping from Sharkey the strike ultimately took place for the betterment of schools and pupils, a toll was incurred, one which the CTU will never acknowledge: Gang recruitment soared during the CTU walkout. According to several Chicago police officers serving with the Department’s Gang Teams, the 11-day strike which paralyzed Chicago provided the city’s gangs with a window of opportunity to lure some of the CPS’ male student population into its ranks. A problem in every major city in the U.S., while a variety of issues contribute to youth becoming embedded with gangs, poverty, despair, fear, promise of money or excitement, pride, identification with a neighborhood among them, police say gangs capitalized on the condition of boredom during the 11-day CTU strike to enlarge their numbers. While recruitment for gang membership is an ongoing effort, police say unlike summer break, a period in which gangs are forced to contend with summer jobs and other recreational activities, Sharkey’s walkout was cleverly exploited by Chicago’s gang syndicate to grow. A matter of which Sharkey had little concern, dozens of youth were drawn into the murky underworld of gang life, but don’t expect Sharkey to conduct a head count when classes resume.

The CTU walkout was never about the students.

Never intending to negotiate in good faith, the CTU strike and new contract was more about obtaining special protections for CPS employees and increasing wages than working toward improving a system or preparing students to meet future challenges. For Sharkey, the planned strike was predicated on the assumption the public is gullible. It worked, and in the end Lightfoot and Jackson were extorted, Chicago residents were mugged, and the pupils were cheated. However, if we sort through the rubble to determine exactly how Chicago was betrayed, we will first learn both Lightfoot and Jackson are simply terrible negotiators. Elsewhere in this contract disaster, Chicago residents will discover the CTU ultimatums for reduction in class size, the measure to protect substitute teachers, and the ceasing of hiring private nurses was merely a maneuver to meet a strategic, costly long-term goal of hiring more unionized classroom educators and support staff. While Sharkey and his merry band of assistants spared no effort to portray the strike as necessary and themselves as advocates for students, the deal concluded provides virtually no incentive to change or improve Chicago’s schools and essentially traps students in failing schools. By demanding a cap on students enrolled in charter schools, the CTU effectively thwarted school choice, and expressed its fury with the notion of competition: If schools were forced to compete, the public system would have to undergo a complete overhaul and prove its value or fade completely. A deal which fails on its own merits, where the most damage was done is clause 39–1.C. A passage which seeks to block any measure to base teacher advancement and job security on student achievement, the language reveals the CTU’s desire to keep Chicago’s public schools in thrall to its opposition to any form of accountability which could expect professional educators to be judged on merit or competence rather than seniority.

Although Jesse Sharkey and the CTU masqueraded as the champion of children, the 11-day strike revealed the union to be nothing more than a job preservation program with separate priorities on higher pay, and security guarantees for the protection of benefits and gilded pension plans. As for students enrolled in Chicago’s public schools, they are leverage and the acceptable casualties in the CTU’s eternal conflict to sustain the system as a sinecure for themselves.

[Photo courtesy Getty/In These Times] [illinoisreportcard.com] [cps.edu] [Chicago Tribune]

Eric the Marionette

Tribune columnist Eric Zorn becomes a mouthpiece for an industry depriving Chicago of tax revenue.

You have to hand it to the Chicago Tribune’s Eric Zorn, he really knows how to listen.  In a high dudgeon over former governor Pat Quinn receiving a subpoena in a federal lawsuit, Zorn embarked on a vivacious defense of Quinn and New Yorker journalist Nicholas Schmidle in his September 24th column.

Zorn’s matter of dispute is two subpoenas issued to Quinn and Schmidle by attorneys representing 11 Chicago police officers dragged into a federal lawsuit filed by Tyrone Hood.  Hood, who was incarcerated for two decades for his alleged role in the 1993 slaying of Marshall Morgan Jr., received a commutation from Quinn in one of the former governor’s final acts before leaving office in 2015.  Eager to learn how Quinn arrived at his decision to commute Hood’s sentence, attorneys representing the police officers also subpoenaed Schmidle, whose lengthy, overblown article in the New Yorker is said to have influenced Quinn’s decision to free Mr. Hood.  Zorn insists both subpoenas “smack of pure intimidation” and are designed to cause future governors to hesitate before availing themselves of clemency power and warn journalists against authoring articles exploring alleged wrongful convictions.

No one is as easily malleable or as easily indoctrinated as Eric Zorn.

Unless Zorn was intent on informing readers he is acquainted with the ex-governor, it is awfully peculiar he would devote his time to the case involving Mr. Hood.  Although it is entirely possible Zorn used his column to genuinely defend a failed ex-governor and the institution of journalism from an unwarranted assault by the court, he may be possessed of an ulterior motive.  While Zorn admits he held a conversation with Quinn, and, as a journalist, he is certainly sympathetic to the bind in which Schmidle finds himself, the Tribune’s resident brainiac has frequently used his column as siege engine to bombard Chicago police, at times with flimsy and far-fetched accusations.  If we cast our minds back to January 2019, Zorn wet himself in a column deploring Judge Domenica Stephenson’s verdict absolving three police officers falsely accused of orchestrating an elaborate cover-up following the 2014 shooting death of an armed teen by Jason Van Dyke.  Months later, Zorn suffered another bout of hysteria in a column in which he berated the documentarians and independent journalists behind the misleading short-film, 16 Shots.  A film he deemed insufficiently critical of Chicago police, Zorn upbraided the filmmakers for neglecting to concentrate adequate attention to a toxic culture he maintains pervades the Chicago Police Department, the illusive “code of silence.”  Pushing forward to spew more sanctimonious guff, Zorn concluded his September 24 column by contending a police misconduct lawsuit defended by the city is not a suitable issue to dispute executive power or a journalist’s bias.   

While Zorn would have us believe he is being frank in is advocacy on behalf of Quinn and journalism, his column is conceivably a camouflage to protect and defend an industry which has blossomed in Chicago over the past two decades.  Although Zorn would prefer readers believe Quinn and Schmidle are victims unnecessarily swept up in a federal lawsuit, the central figures in the pending lawsuit filed by Hood are 11 Chicago police officers.  Predictably, the basis of Hood’s lawsuit alleges police coercion and brutality.  Given the fervor of Zorn’s response, his barefaced Left-wing dogma, and his dim view of Chicago police, it is far more likely the thrust of Zorn’s column rests with his ardent desire to safeguard law firms which specialize in pursuing litigation against Chicago for alleged wrongful convictions or allegations of police misconduct.

Although Zorn cleverly sidesteps mentioning this stealth enterprise, the sue-the-cops industry is lucrative and has enriched several law firms in the Windy City.  Largely the outgrowth of the social grievance culture, the sue-the-cops industry sprang from the ideal of “social justice,” which is, at maximum, a partial and subjective version of real justice.  Mooring themselves to the commotion agitated by criminal reform or restorative justice movements, these supposed “civil rights” law firms have successfully depicted habitual criminals as tragic figures as opposed to violent criminals incarcerated for their deliberate involvement in heinous crimes.  In the manic quest to achieve “social justice,” unscrupulous attorneys deceive the public by portraying violent felons who double as accomplished liars as victims who patiently bore injustices with fortitude.  For their pitiless negotiating tactics, deviousness, and tears, these same perfidious attorneys win the argument and multi-million-dollar settlements are handed down to unworthy clients.

While the whole of the legal profession has been generally and rightly maligned, trial lawyers most prominently, the nominal civil-rights law firms have tended to avoid any serious scrutiny for the reason they have been remarkably successful at portraying their particular area of practice as defending the weak, vulnerable, persecuted, and powerless.  Unfortunately, a consequence of their exertion is the creation of an environment in which the rights of those guilty of serious crimes have overtaken the rights of and compassion for genuine victims of crimes and justice itself.  Worse, although these “civil rights” law firms pose as new-age guardians of justice, they are motivated in part by greed and have lined their firms’ pockets at Chicago taxpayers’ expense.

A man fond of using his space in the Tribune as a diversion, Eric Zorn is free to use his column any way he chooses.  While Zorn laments the subpoenas issued to a bumbling ex-governor and an aspiring journalist as “poorly disguised” attempts to intimidate future governors from exercising the authority of office and journalists from investigative work, his column is a poorly disguised attempt to protect a ravenous legal machine devouring city tax dollars.  The problem, of course, is by using his column to surreptitiously defend law firms which are invested in assisting the so-called wrongfully convicted is Zorn has effectively become a defender of a culture which ignores victims of gruesome crimes, a public-relations machine for the sue-the-cops industry, and a compliant stooge of law firms which are draining Chicago of revenue.

Eric Zorn may have heard what Pat Quinn had to say, but in all probability Zorn was listening to a bunch of dishonorable lawyers. 

 [Chicago Tribune]

Mayor Lori Lightfoot Impeaches Her Credibility

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Of the few moments worth re-visiting from Mayor Lightfoot’s first months in office, an August 23 announcement her administration would impose a citywide hiring freeze is not among them. Although Ms. Lightfoot failed to mention the new policy initiative in a self-indulgent speech at Kenwood Academy on August 28, the following day in her grand splash State of the City address, Lightfoot touted the principle as part of her determination to sweep aside Chicago’s old political debris. Despite campaigning as an anti-machine wrecking ball and her pious rhetoric since assuming office, in a deeply-troubling gesture in late September, Lightfoot’s office revealed the hire of former 45th Ward alderman John Arena to the position of senior adviser with the city’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD). A role in which the banished alderman will earn a princely sum of $123,996, in announcing the hire, Lightfoot’s spokeswoman, Anel Ruiz, said:

“John Arena has spent the better part of the last decade advocating for smart city planning that drives investment and creates new opportunities for the residents of this city. The administration is confident that his experience with complex, local community development issues will make him an asset to DPD and incoming Commissioner (Maurice) Cox.”

Of all the missteps and unwise decisions in the earliest stages of Lightfoot’s term as mayor — the uncalled-for public censure of police, the extravagant travel for the purpose of fundraising, deliberately insulting a police union official on the floor of the City Council, and the refusal to cooperate with federal immigration officials — the hiring of John Arena may well turn out to be the worst of all. While hiring competent people to serve Chicago is well and good, John Arena’s hire is not, by any yardstick, a sensible decision. According to a 2011 candidate biography published in the Chicago Tribune during his bid to represent the 45th Ward in the city’s legislative chamber, Mr. Arena graduated in 1990 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Northern Illinois University. Hardly ideal training for a position in urban planning, in the same Tribune candidate resume Arena’s work experience reveals a six-year employment gap between 1990 and 1996, a position with Frankel Brand Marketing from 1996–2001, and lists Arena as the owner of Arena Design & Illustration. While all able workers have gaps in their employment history, a six-year period is, well, suspect. Moreover, very little evidence exists to verify Arena Design & Illustration, a firm of which Arena claimed then to be proprietor, resides anywhere except inside a payphone booth or in Mr. Arena’s mind.

Although the statement from Ms. Lightfoot’s office hypes Arena as impressively endowed to contribute at DPD, the missive specifies up front advocacy is the former alderman strongest professional attribute uniquely suiting him for the position. As Ms. Lightfoot stumbles through her first months in office, it may be helpful to remind her advocacy is not a substitute for either skill or experience, and Mr. Arena is not a man familiar with the fine art of gentlemanly advocacy. In addition to the fact Ms. Lightfoot may be confusing advocacy with skill and experience, it may also benefit the new mayor if we jog her memory with regard to the latter part of Mr. Arena’s final term in the Chicago City Council.

A period marked by sheer chaos in the 45th Ward he represented, in a series of turbulent events provoked by Arena in early 2017, the former alderman rolled out a proposal to develop a seven-story residential building on the site of a vacant lot at 5150 North Northwest Highway. When objections were raised by residents over the building’s height, neighborhood density, and overcrowded schools, rather than demonstrating the virtues of an experienced politician and a mature leader by tolerating opposing views or the opinions of critics, Arena engaged in the politics of grievance and deployed scorched-earth tactics against constituents with abandon. As opposition from residents to the development plan intensified, Arena counterpunched and often below the belt. In a string of despicable incidents in which Arena addressed the matter in public or on social media, the former alderman revealed a truculent side of his nature, reduced the conversation to shouting matches, falsely depicted opposition to his development plan as primal screams from bigoted cranks, and painted an unsettling portrait of the 45th Ward as hopelessly and intractably racist. In one final attempted blow to bring the neighborhood to heel, Arena retaliated to dissension to his housing plan by filing manifestly false complaints with the city alleging racism among police officers and firefighters residing in the ward. A disgrace which should never be forgotten or entirely forgiven, Mr. Arena has declined any outward expression of penance for his unbridled hysterics.

Over and above his fire-breathing hectoring of residents, Mr. Arena will also bring some ethical baggage with him to his new position with the City of Chicago. Although much of the affordable housing controversy Mr. Arena invited into Jefferson Park was played out in public, some of his advocacy was behind a curtain and remains unexplained. To achieve his vision of a Progressive utopia in the 45th Ward, Arena meddled in LSC Development’s work progress at 5150 North Northwest Highway by slyly re-zoning 5140–5190 North Northwest Highway to B1–1 (Neighborhood Shopping) from M1–1. Shortly after, LSC was informed its work permits were invalid despite the fact the building maintained a M1–1 zoning designation at the time of issue. This led to LSC Development suing the City of Chicago and Commissioner of the Department of Buildings, Judith Frydland, and a six-month legal battle followed. In addition to his re-zoning gambit, Arena has accepted campaign donations from several area developers, including one with a shady reputation, Charles Cui, who is embroiled in a federal bribery probe and who feathered Arena’s campaign coffer with $17,000 in election funds.

John Arena deserved to be written off.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has a problem, and it is grounded in credibility. A woman who sought office posing as a completely heterodox politician determined to not only upend but undo decades of Democratic machine politics, Lightfoot’s appointment of John Arena to the DPD is the glory of the machine system. Although Ms. Lightfoot attempted to portray Arena’s background in glowing terms by stating his advocacy for affordable housing in the city’s legislative chamber is a great asset to his job with the DPD as it lends to his supposed experience and gravitas, this was merely a smokescreen. A man of mediocre qualifications, although Arena was almost certainly hired to ensure he would meet the minimum ten-year-eligibility requirement to collect a generous city pension, a plausible motive for his hire may rest with the fact Arena has the right Progressive policy credentials and embodies all the personal features of the Progressive Left’s political identity. With aldermanic prerogative reined in, a circumstance which could feasibly enhance the power of DPD, a more appropriate title for Arena at DPD would be senior political adviser in charge of ramming through Ms. Lightfoot’s housing preferences. 

But by appointing Arena to the DPD, the mayor is creating a problem with confidence in her leadership:  Lightfoot is revealing her tolerance with Arena’s uncompromisingly confrontational tactics.  A man who tends to go off like a firecracker, Arena’s incendiary comments, his treatment of 45th Ward residents, and calamitous handling of his affordable housing plan in Jefferson Park should have naturally disqualified him from any further employment with the City of Chicago.  That Ms. Lightfoot overlooked the bitter, two-year ordeal 45th Ward residents suffered at Mr. Arena’s hands is consonant to glorifying and rewarding the former alderman for both his Progressive zealotry and being a nasty partisan brawler.

While John Arena’s tenure in the City Council has come to an end and we should celebrate its passing, his troubling legacy will endure with a plum position in the Department of Planning and Development.   

[Photo courtesy Bloomberg] [Chicago Tribune]

Civilian Office of Police Accountability Goes Rogue

An abuse-of-power scandal brews at police oversight agency.

For almost five decades, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) has been subject to civilian oversight.  Over the same period, Chicago lawmakers, community activists, and some residents have scrutinized the activity and conclusions of police oversight agencies as closely as the watchdog organs have explored the CPD.  An outgrowth of the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) and its earlier incarnation, the Office of Professional Standards (OPS), the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) was created in 2017 to carry out police oversight openly and energetically in the public fora. 

An agency established with broader powers than its predecessors, on its official website, COPA broadcasts itself as “the leader in police accountability by conducting thorough investigations, to advance the culture of policing and build trust in civilian oversight.”  Unexamined, this sounds noble.  However, if we review the police oversight agency’s rules and regulations, under §3.6 Gathering Evidence, COPA’s general contours include but are not limited to “interviews with complainants, witnesses, and subjects, relevant Department reports and documents, observations made at the scene of an incident within COPA’s jurisdiction, canvass of a scene to identify witnesses and other relevant evidence, analysis of digital evidence, including audio and video recordings, physical evidence, and forensic analysis of evidence.”  While these guiding principles may sound nice and accommodating, any judicious and unbiased interpretation of the watchdog’s rules should lead any sober reader to draw the conclusion nowhere in COPA’s bylaws is the civilian oversight agency empowered to request or execute a search warrant on a member of the CPD.  A function considerably outside the scope of its mandate, COPA is now known to have executed at least two search warrants against Chicago police officers, and the potential for more illegal search warrants executed upon officers exists.  A jaw-dropping revelation, a letter from attorneys representing the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 (FOP) dated September 13 has demanded both COPA and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (CCSAO) immediately halt the illegal execution of search warrants.   

While the bare facts of this matter make for unsettling reading, it is worthwhile to explore the cause or motives for COPA, a civilian oversight agency bereft of any legal authority to execute search warrants, to perform such a duty.  Moreover, it is essential to examine the role the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office played in facilitating the approval of such search warrants.

COPA, Foxx give up the game.

Let’s start by understanding COPA’s behavior in the execution of unlawful search warrants is neither surprising nor is it the first time the oversight agency has courted controversy.  The latest in a string of incriminating episodes, COPA’s improper discharge of search warrants follows the shameful 2018 disclosure COPA officials concealed the opinion of an expert hired to consult with the agency in the 2015 fatal shooting of an armed man threatening two police officers.  In another embarrassing incident, COPA was declared singularly unqualified to perform investigations of fatal, officer-involved shootings by the director of the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board (ILETSB).  In the wake of the ILETSB’s pronouncement, Chicago residents were shocked to learn a COPA employee had improperly accessed records of police officers and authored an e-mail stating a COPA co-worker was planning a mass shooting at the agency’s office.  In a separate but alarming calamity which demonstrated the disturbing political proclivities of its staff members, a COPA employee openly expressed his admiration for Left-wing radical and communist apologist Angela Davis on his employee biography page.    

While the conduct of some COPA employees has demonstrated a plain deficit of integrity and ethics, COPA’s illegal execution of search warrants should do more than simply ring bells.  Unlike the outlandish antics of a former investigator or an employee who unreservedly embraced the ideological zealotry of an avowed communist, the current morass COPA finds itself mired in is an abuse-of-power scandal. While COPA is by no means the only cog in Chicago’s bureaucratic leviathan in which corruption or incompetence looms large, a hard-headed survey of the agency’s conduct with concern to the execution of search warrants demonstrates COPA acted with an incredible disregard for the law.  Although COPA manifestly exceeded it established authority, it is even more disquieting to consider how COPA presumed it held the authority to seek approval for search warrants with the State’s Attorney’s office. 

An act which strongly suggests COPA’s leadership surreptitiously re-wrote or freely defied regulations to suit its ends, at the very least the illegal execution of search warrants implies the watchdog has no mechanism to impose constraints on employees and is seemingly directed by a leadership which observes no rules or limitations.  At most, it smacks of COPA run amok, an oversight agency which is dismissive of honesty and due process, and entirely comfortable with flouting the law.  Most important, COPA’s illegal execution of search warrants leaves little room for questions about its distorted motives.  Putting it mildly, nothing about COPA’s actions were either accidental or casual, and nothing was normal or ethical.

While COPA erroneously presumed itself flush with prosecutorial power, it is essential to carefully evaluate the contributions of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in COPA’s power abuse.  While Cook County’s comically incompetent prosecutor, Kim Foxx, has not been directly tied to the scandal, it is fair to assert, at minimum, COPA’s knack for obtaining the illegal search warrants had to have occurred with some assistance or a mutual understanding between COPA and Foxx’s office.  Although there is much we have yet to learn, particularly how Foxx’s office interconnected with COPA, what must be immediately ruled out is the notion authorization for COPA’s illegal search warrants was the result of a scrivener’s error or an assistant state attorney falling asleep at the wheel while matters in Foxx’s office slipped off the rails.

Nonetheless, if we begin by acknowledging it is the highest duty of employees at both COPA and Foxx’s office to know, understand, and observe the rules, regulations, and laws governing the approval of requests for search warrants, then it is fair to speculate laws were not simply bent, but were broken.  If we concede the fact laws were broken, it is valid to question why these events took place.  A plausible answer to this question is a poisonous, anti-police atmosphere has developed in the offices at the CCSAO and COPA.  For such an atmosphere to evolve, an individual or group to whose interest it is to incite umbrage must come forth to nurse, lead, and sustain a hostile environment.  Although COPA’s job in theory is to remain a neutral arbiter while conducting investigations of police, the mere fact it trespassed over the law to obtain search warrants against police officers suggests dark motivations rest behind its stated principle of “building trust in police oversight.”  Similarly, for Foxx’s office to approve COPA’s illegal warrants should ignite questions over the CCSAO’s impartiality.       

Contempt for police masquerading as dispassion or fair-mindedness, a clear picture has emerged a pernicious, anti-police air occupies COPA and the CCSAO.  While it is almost certain an anti-police climate had been prevalent at COPA prior, the circumstance of Kim Foxx’s election as Cook County State’s Attorney proved helpful to form a toxic, anti-police environment within the CCSAO.  With both offices’ interests aligned, the authorization of COPA’s illegal search warrants by the CCSAO gives the uncomfortable appearance a not-so-secret handshake agreement has emerged between COPA and employees working with Ms. Foxx.  In Foxx, COPA has a prosecutor willing to skirt the law to secretly pursue its ambitions of ensnaring police.  Conversely, in COPA, Foxx has a presumed independent organ willing to execute her vision of explicitly marking Chicago police officers for special scrutiny or criminal prosecution. 

For a public office to function as it is intended, the office must adhere to an honorable set of values.  A public office with the wrong philosophy and the wrong policies leads to genuine harm. COPA executing search warrants approved by Kim Foxx’s office is an abuse of power.  A story which could be worse than we know, it tells us much about how the leadership and employees in both offices view police by a different scale of justice, the norms and standards in both offices are written in sand, and the basic tenets of both offices appear to be attitude and an agenda over probity.  Moreover, COPA’s ability to obtain search warrants from Foxx’s office appears to be consistent with the widespread corruption for which Chicago has become renown.  A product of one-party dominating the political culture, it is a system in which tests to power are crushed and checks on elected or appointed officials are virtually absent.

The credibility of both COPA and CCSAO, is hemorrhaging, and credibility lost is difficult to restore.

[Chicago Sun Times] [Chicago Tribune]

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The SEIU's Downpayment to Mayor Lightfoot

Organized labor’s dirty little secret.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot

Mayor Lori Lightfoot

Amid much fanfare in December 2014, the Chicago City Council pushed through a measure to raise the minimum wage in the Windy City to $13 per hour by 2019.  An act met with little resistance in the Chicago’s version of the Politburo, the motion followed former mayor Rahm Emanuel’s September 2014 executive order forcing contractors conducting business with the city to pay employees $13 per hour.  Under the bill supported by Emanuel, Chicago’s workers would see their wages rise from a hourly rate of $8.25 in 2014 to $15 by 2025.  At the time of the bill’s passage, supporters of the new law held it was long overdue and would provide a pathway out of poverty for over 70,000 low-income workers. 

While the notion of a minimum wage was first realized in Massachusetts in 1912 and six years later in the District of Columbia, the Supreme Court ruled in 1924 minimum wage laws encroached on the rights of workers and businesses to form labor agreements as they saw fit.  It was during the Great Depression when, after surviving court challenges, the Roosevelt administration re-invigorated the movement to establish national minimum wage with creation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in 1938.  Since the enactment of the FLSA, the minimum wage has been subject to irregular increases, most often justified to keep pace with inflation.

While the law has been traditionally popular with the lower wage earners and Progressive activists, there are a number of devastating effects an increase to the minimum wage has on cheap labor.  First, the minimum wage targets the wrong income earners.  It is an undeniable fact a majority of minimum wage earners fall into one of two distinct classes:  Young, between age 16-24, and the older sample, who have achieved a high school education.  Of the sample defined as young, they are typically not the head of a household; they live in middle-class households which earn an average of $65,000 annually, and are often enrolled in school.  As for the those considered in the older category, while they are often in lower middle-class households, a majority remain above the poverty line.  As well, this sample also reside in households earning over $42,000 annually, do not have dependents, and are often considered part-time workers.  Moreover, for those rare heads of households who are minimum wage earners, there are a range of government assistance programs, Medicare, SNAP Food Benefits, public housing, among others, which greatly increase effective income.  

Second, increases to the minimum wage are usually followed by a shrinkage in the unskilled labor force or outright job loss.  One of the most damaging effects of a rise in the minimum wage, if labor is regarded as human capital providing a service, the value of the service presented is determined by a market.  If, for example, human capital’s wages are increased by government mandate, buying power among consumers is reduced.  To blunt the effects of an artificial rise in labor cost, employers bound by law to pay more than the value of labor reduce business costs by curtailing an employee’s hours or eliminating the role to sustain profitability.  Worse, a policy prescription which is intended to lift the impoverished, a majority of those affected are the unskilled or low-skilled laborers who are entering the workforce to learn a skill.  Once those skills are mastered in a low-wage job, the worker can become an asset to the employer and claim the right to a higher wage or enter the skilled workforce.  A surge in the minimum wage only eliminates the entrance to the workplace for the unskilled. 

Third, the movement to raise the minimum wage fails to acknowledge what is unfolding before our very eyes:  Technological advances which have led a sharp increase in automation or robotics overtaking unskilled labor.

Although the minimum wage affects very few laborers, estimates place the percentage of minimum wage earners below three percent nationwide, some of the strongest support for the minimum wage to continue on an upward trajectory comes from Chicago’s most powerful labor unions.  A curious position for organized labor when so few unionized workers earn minimum wages, the main reason Chicago’s labor supports such increases rests in the fact union contracts are almost entirely dependent on the mandated minimum wage. 

A critical aspect surrounding labor’s support of the movement to raise the mandated living wage, union wages across countless trades are predicated on various multiples of the minimum wage.  In some instances, the multiple can be as high as four times the minimum wage benchmark.  Another point which is buried underneath shovelfuls of Progressive propaganda, just as raising the minimum wage has harmful effects on the unskilled or youth, raising minimum wages tends to raise the wages across an entire range of skilled wage earners.  This factor tends to cause a drop in the demand for labor in the same labor spectrum.  The difference, of course, is an increase in the minimum wage endures a political process, which is easily attainable in the Chicago City Council.  In contrast, a rise in the minimum wage enables a boost in pay for organized labor without any negotiation.

Despite a rise in the minimum wage having some damaging consequences on jobs and laborers it intends to assist, in her August 29 State of the City address, Mayor Lightfoot firmly threw support behind Chicago overtaking the state in the race to raise the minimum wage to $15 prior to 2025.  Although Lightfoot had offered support for raising the minimum wage as a candidate for mayor, her endorsement was not moored to any certain timetable.  It is also important to note Lightfoot, while on the campaign trail, had demonstrated some fairly strong support for introducing a universal basic income in Chicago.  However, shortly after inflicting a humiliating loss on Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in the mayoral runoff election, Lightfoot shifted priorities, discarded the universal basic income, and swiftly backed a two-dollar increase in Chicago’s minimum wage by 2021.    

While a politician re-casting themselves following a significant win at the ballot box is nothing new, Lightfoot’s sudden, unqualified support for a hike in the minimum wage intersects with a rather bizarre development:  The June 30 campaign gift of $100,000 from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Illinois Council PAC.  A meager gift in comparison to the vast amounts of campaign cash the SEIU slung at Preckwinkle, the SEIU’s newfound allegiance to Lightfoot runs concurrent with the “Raise Chicago” ordinance gaining steam in the City Council.  Pushed by Alderman Sophia King (4th), the measure would raise the minimum wage to $15 hourly by 2021.  Unsurprisingly, the proposed fiat has some of its loudest and most determined backing from the SEIU and the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL), which represents over 300 affiliated unions.

A move rooted almost entirely in politics, Lightfoot’s decision to enthusiastically back a sharp increase in the minimum wage converging with the SEIU’s magnanimity is particularly problematic for several reasons.  First, it reveals Lightfoot is allowing the SEIU to exercise untrammeled power over her office.  Second, it illustrates Lightfoot is far more interested in cosseting organized labor over her interest in a well-paid unionized labor force, which satisfies labor union leadership and continues the flow organized labor’s campaign contributions into her campaign coffers. Last, in light of the economic downsides it entails, particularly the job loss it metes out to unskilled labor, Lightfoot’s embrace of a sharp increase to the minimum wage represents she has little genuine concern for the needs of those at the bottom rung of the pay scale.

A cunning and avaricious gesture on the part of Lightfoot, for the mayor to embrace the SEIU’s riches perfectly illustrates the political power of Chicago’s labor leadership. Thus, the disproportionate influence unions such as the SEIU and the CFL hold over Lightfoot come for the simplest reasons: They buy it.  

[Chicago Sun Times] [lightfootforchicago] [Chicago Tribune] [seiuhcilin]