Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, is home to little else other than Lake Superior State University. LSSU as it’s known, has one special claim to fame, its annual List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness. Started in 1976, the list receives hundreds of nominations each year from all around the world.
Respectfully, I would like to submit an entry for consideration in this year’s much-celebrated list. LSSU, I submit that the term “public servant” be banished from the Queen’s English. To demonstrate the merit of my submission, I direct your attention to the recently declared teachers’ strike in the City of Chicago.
On Thursday, Oct. 17, the Chicago Teachers Union officially walked out of classrooms and walked onto picket lines. Approximately 25,000 public school teachers — formerly known as public servants — have walked off the job after rejecting a 16 percent pay increase, along with other concessions, offered by Chicago’s new mayor, Lori Lightfoot. (Apparently a 16 percent raise in the Trump economy just doesn’t seem like that much.)
While they will still be showing up at school each day during the strike, it won’t be to teach. Instead, they will stand in front of their respective school buildings and whine to the taxpaying citizens of Chicago, a city within a state that is ranked dead last in fiscal stability, to sacrifice even more of their hard-earned money.
All of the particulars about the teachers’ demands and the city’s offers are beyond the scope of this piece and they really aren’t relevant. What is relevant is that the Chicago Teachers Union, a part of the American Federation of Teachers, is just the latest public-sector union in Illinois to demand more blood from an already bled-dry tax base.
Illinois is a dead-state-walking fiscally. The largest source of the problem is a pension system that is constitutionally protected at the state level. This means that pension obligations have to be honored before all others. The state can even redirect monies appropriated to individual municipalities for necessary public services and funnel them to pension fund liabilities. This has the Bizarro World effect of forcing cities to lay off active firemen and policemen in order to pay for the retired ones.
The total unfunded public-employee pension liability in Illinois now stands at $134 billion with the teachers’ union share of that amounting to $75 billion. In fact, the National Council on Teacher Quality already gives the Illinois teachers’ pension fund the lowest rankings in categories of sustainability, transparency and flexibility. The projected state budget deficit for 2020 is $3.2 billion, while Chicago’s forecasted budget deficit for fiscal 2020 stands at $838 million! None of this is sustainable and none of it is being addressed at either the state or local level within Illinois.
Mismanagement by elected leaders aside, every employee working for the government inside of Illinois should consider themselves to be a public servant, but too many have apparently cast this mantle, and this honor, aside. But lest they forget, their employer isn’t the state or the city, it’s the individual citizen who pays taxes in exchange for public services, like schools. In the private sector, employees know that when a company for which they work gets in financial trouble, changes — including compensation — may have to be made in order for the business to survive and for them to remain gainfully employed.
In the world of public-sector employees, especially those represented by unions, there is no such expectation. The Chicago teachers who have just walked out on the job are looking the taxpayers dead in the eye and saying, in essence: “We know that the city and the state are broke. We know your taxes are already too high and going higher. We couldn’t care less. Pay us more or we will punish you.”
I know many may say, Charlie, you’re being too harsh on teachers and their unions. They care for our children. If that’s you, then you don’t have to take my word for it, turn to no other than one of the great champions of unions in U.S. history, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. After all, he signed into law the National Labor Relations Act, or Wagner Act as it’s commonly referred. The act established the National Labor Relations Board and facilitated the rise of private-sector unions. But even Roosevelt understood the dangers of public servants unionizing. In a letter written in 1937 to Luther Steward, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, Roosevelt wrote:
“All government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service … The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. … The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress … Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount.”
FDR understood the destructive nature of public employees ignoring their public duty. In discussing a similar teachers strike back in the 1970s, radio icon Paul Harvey uttered a line that has lived on for more than 40 years. On his program, “Paul Harvey’s News & Comment,” a program I remember hearing in the back of my parents’ car along with millions of other Americans, he famously said of those picketers in that moment, “Someone should tell them that teachers on the picket line are still teaching.”
Sadly, what they are teaching us today is that the term “public servant” has become a generally useless expression, and I hereby declare it unfit in our current political era.
• Charlie Kirk is the founder and executive director of Turning Point USA. He is also host of “The Charlie Kirk Show.”