The War on Unions is a War on Chicago’s Working Women

It’s not a surprise that some of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first acts in office have been to “warn” Chicago unions that he is not their fan. The biggest attack has come against the teacher’s union:

[Last] week, the Chicago Public Schools announced layoffs of 1,000 teachers. An education reform bill passed by the state earlier this month makes it more difficult for teachers to strike; Emanuel supported curtailing that right during his election. A few weeks ago, the Chicago School Board denied teachers a 4-percent pay raise worth $100 million, which was to trim the school budget. Emanuel said students “got the shaft” from the pay raises that were obligated under the current contract.

Late last week, the Mayor said that the city workers union had to come up with contract concessions by July 1st or risk hundreds of layoffs. The current contract was signed by former Mayor Daley and built upon the idea that furlough days would continue and Mayor Emanuel does not want to continue them. And that means real money needs to be cut and by last Friday.

So why am I saying that this is a way on the working women of Chicago?

Think about it. Who are the bulk of Chicago teachers? Women. Women make up 60% of local employees*. When we get to state employees, it is 50.7% of workers, which makes Governor Quinn’s refusal to pay raises important to this state’s women…and as we know, when women are shortchanged, families are shortchanged.

Women benefit from being in unions:

  • Women who were members of unions or who were covered by a union contract earned nearly one third (32.6 percent) more per week than women who were not represented by a union—or $208 more per week.[5]
  • Latina women, whose median weekly earnings are lower than any other demographic group, experienced particularly high financial benefits from union membership or coverage by a union contract, earning 48.1 percent more than Latina women who were not represented by a union—or $235 more per week. Black women in unions or covered by a union contract earned 25.4 percent more than Black women who were not represented by a union, or $146 more per week.[6]
  • According to a 2008 analysis, being in a union or covered by a union contract increases the likelihood that a woman worker will have employer-provided health insurance by 18.8 percent, while finishing a four-year college degree increases this likelihood by only 8.4 percent.[7]

I can hear you now…But no one is getting raises! Just because most people are being shortchanged much needed money in this economy, does it mean we must back everyone being shortchanged? What about the Chicago Public School officials who received raises? The official word is that they are doing more…But isn’t everyone doing at least two jobs without raises in this economy? Thankfully the CTU President summed up opposition to those raises brilliantly in the Chicago Sun-Times, by pointing out that those raises are being taken from funds for our children.

No one is getting a pension anymore! Again, is this really a good reason to defund public pensions? Really? Rather, this is why one must fight FOR pensions everywhere and to protect Social Security.

But the best excuse, one that is said over and over in the media by countless politicians, is that tax-payers can’t afford this big salaries (most are over the median family income of $46,748), but considering that the law says to be employed by Chicago, one must LIVE in Chicago, I would argue that this rational does not hold water. You can’t make the excuse that tax payers benefit by cutting wages and jobs of public employees when those are your tax payers! Ditto with state employees.

I certainly do not have the answers to our fiscal crisis, but years of layoffs, salary decreases and selling off public entities to the highest bidder has not solved our crisis either. But what I do know is that women are over represented in jobs that are now on the cutting block – teachers, social workers, public employees – and that is not good for women and families. Especially since it is women who ended up being the bread winners in the family after the manly jobs were cut early on in this Great Recession. Yet, when manly jobs were hemorrhaging from the economy, MANCESSION, was screamed from every media outlet. We are entering a WOMANCESSION with nary a peep, except from the Mayor and Governor who are doing their best to bring it epic heights.

So ladies…the next time an elected official tries to woo you with their tough and bullying talk against those lazy unions, remember he’s talking about women workers.

*I can’t find stats on Chicago or Illinois itself. If anyone has them, please post!



Veronica I. Arreola is a professional feminist, a mom and a writer. She blogs about the intersection of feminism and motherhood at Veronica lives on the north side of Chicago with her husband, their spunky daughter and doxie named Piper. You can connect with Veronica at Facebook or Twitter.

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