Unions leading the way for progressive change to benefit the proverbial 99%

The current strike of both Chicago public school teachers and staff illustrates a growing trend across the nation. In particular, and despite employer attempts to frame contract negotiations as only about wage increases for union members, unions are effectively pursuing a holistic approach that seeks improvements for both members and the communities they serve. Therefore, Chicago teachers and staff are demanding increased affordable housing because many students lack stable housing, economic development in the communities from which students come to provide more opportunity for students’ families, and increased mental health and other medical as well as social services because many students have unmet needs in these respects.

The comprehensive demands made by Chicago public school teachers and staff does not depend on increasing fees or taxes for lower-income or middle-income people. Instead, this approach involves the reinstatement of the corporate head tax and other progressive revenue strategies. Former Chief of Staff for President Barack Obama and then Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, ended the corporate head tax in 2014 even though it served the people of Chicago well for over 40 years. To pay for this corporate windfall, then-Mayor Emanuel closed half of the Chicago’s public mental health clinics.

The tactic of bargaining for the common good used by Chicago public school teachers and staff has two key dimensions: (1) compelling Chicago and its school system, as a matter of contract, to improve Chicago schools and (2) collaborating with civil rights and other community groups to obtain the funding for those improvements through progressive legal action that makes the wealthy pay their fair share. If this approach is successful, Chicago will certainly be a model for the rest of the country.

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