NL 4 Stacy Davis Gates

Is Chicago Doomed to Become the Next Detroit?

Erstwhile Paid Teacher Union Lobbyist Is Now Windy City Mayor

It was 10 years ago this past summer that Detroit, once a magnet for ambitious job seekers across the country, became the largest U.S. city ever to file for bankruptcy.

As many news reporters and commentators observed at the time, Detroit’s mismanaged, bloated, and grossly inefficient municipal workforce was a, and arguably the, key factor behind the city’s downfall.

And government union bosses wielding monopoly-bargaining power over teachers, police, firefighters, and other public employees were largely responsible for having blocked, for decades, reforms that could have furnished residents far superior services at a much more reasonable cost.

Detroit eventually emerged from the bankruptcy almost two years later, after a series of painful negotiations among all of the stakeholders involved.

Largely because municipal union bosses’ monopoly-bargaining privileges were sharply curtailed for a decade as part of the bankruptcy deal, Detroit has in recent years run balanced budgets.

Mayor’s Looming Property Tax Hikes Could Double or Quadruple Businesses’ Burdens

Unfortunately, state and local politicians across much of the U.S. have refused to learn the lesson of the Motor City debacle. Forced-unionism Illinois and its largest city are cases in point.

This past spring, after particularly nasty primary and general elections, militant Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) bosses and their allies succeed in installing their handpicked candidate, Brandon Johnson, as mayor.

Prior to his election, Mr. Johnson was a paid CTU lobbyist.

His reign as mayor has barely begun, but it wouldn’t be premature to call it a disaster.

Serious crime, already rapidly rising in Chicago in 2021 and 2022, surged by an additional 29% during the first nine months of 2023, but Mr. Johnson continues to favor taking a hands-off approach to perpetrators of robbery, theft and vandalism.

As glaring as the city’s public-safety failures are, the failures of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system may be even more consequential.

Dozens of CPS schools have zero students reading and/or doing math at grade level.

In a system with minority pupils constituting 89% of those enrolled, the shares of Black third-to-eighth graders who are proficient in reading and math are respectively 11% and 6%. Among Hispanics at the same grade levels, the proficiency rates are a nearly-as-dismal 17% and 11%.

Rather than propose any reforms that might plausibly help government schools that have hiked spending by a dumbfounding 58% in a decade, and now rake in $26,356 in taxpayer money per pupil, make better use of the ample resources they have, Mr. Johnson is pushing for even higher taxes.

Just for starters, Mr. Johnson is openly planning a massive commercial-property tax-increase package that would more than double the rate currently paid by many Windy City businesses and quadruple it for others.

Big Labor’s 2022 ‘Amendment One’ Power Grab Makes Saving Chicago Virtually Impossible

“Given that the office vacancy rate in Chicago today is 22.6%, nearly double what it was before the COVID-19 pandemic, tax hikes of this magnitude could spur vast numbers of business relocations out of the city,” commented National Right to Work Committee Vice President John Kalb.

“Eventually, filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy could be the only option left.”

In the wake of Detroit’s bankruptcy filing a decade ago, National Right to Work was among the many observers to point out that Chicago, along with a number of other Big Labor-dominated cities, was headed in the same direction.

At the time, the Committee suggested Illinois state politicians could help the Windy City avoid this fate by rolling back government union bosses’ monopoly bargaining privileges, as Wisconsin had in 2011 with its renowned Act 10.

Mr. Kalb noted that this option, while it would still be very helpful even today, is now a virtual impossibility in Illinois:

“In 2022, a well-heeled propaganda campaign in Illinois succeeded in locking in Amendment One, a constitutional provision that makes it extraordinarily difficult for Illinoisans to roll back, much less eliminate, government union kingpins’ ‘exclusive representation’ power over public employees and taxpayers.

“Consequently, even as the fiscal status of Chicago and Illinois as a whole almost inevitably get worse and worse over the next few years, concerned citizens will face a steeply uphill battle in trying to set things right.

“As one commentator recently noted, Illinois’s outrageous labor law stacks the deck in Big Labor bosses’ favor so thoroughly that, even ‘if Abraham Lincoln came back from the dead and became mayor,’ he couldn’t fix Chicago!”

This article was originally published in the National Right to Work Committee’s monthly newsletter. Go here to access previous newsletter posts.

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