by Paul Kersey
Director of Labor Policy
Believe it or not, late Friday afternoon the scuttlebutt was that the Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Teachers Union were close to agreeing on a contract. Progress was the word of the day well into Sunday. And we all know how all that turned out.
Rumors, about how close the sides are to reaching an agreement, about what the contentious issues are, are just that: rumors. Wild guesses and the effects that the "telephone game" can have even on reliable information mean that the only people who know for certain what's going on at the bargaining table are sitting at the bargaining table, and anything they say for public consumption is going to be for PR purposes. The bottom line is that the rest of us don't know anywhere as much as we should. That includes a lot of so-called experts.
Among the many problems created by our labor law is the extent to which the whole bargaining process is opaque. Neither the general public nor the media is at the table. There is little we really know for sure about what CPS and CTU are bargaining over at any given moment. Nor can we count on having access to any of the papers, the offers, counter-offers, or financial projections. Eventually there will be a tentative agreement that should go out to the general public, but with the pressure on to end a strike as quickly as possible, the rest of us cannot count on having much time to look over the agreement when it comes out.
And that's a huge problem, because the terms for benefits are likely to complicated with large sums at stake. The work rules and evaluation terms are also likely to be fairly detailed and will go a long way toward determining whether or not Chicago Schools will improve. The nature of the business is that negotiations go on in secret, and when they are done the agreement is liable to go through a rushed ratification process. This combination of secrecy and hurry is the opposite of democratic government, which is supposed to be done in the open, and with time for due deliberation.