3rd anniversary of 2019 Chicago Teachers Union strike gives glimpse of Amendment 1

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
October 17, 2022

3rd anniversary of 2019 Chicago Teachers Union strike gives glimpse of Amendment 1

The Chicago Teachers Union has a history of demanding contract provisions far beyond wages and benefits. If Amendment 1 passes in November, government unions such as CTU will have a right to demand virtually anything and go on strike to get those demands met.

Three years ago, the Chicago Teachers Union walked out on students. The strike lasted 11 school days, and the resulting five-year contract is estimated to cost taxpayers $1.5 billion.

That strike now provides an example of what’s at stake if Amendment 1 passes Nov. 8.

Government unions in Illinois already have a right to negotiate over a wide variety of subjects, including wages, hours and terms and conditions of employment.

But in 2019, CTU was demanding more. It also demanded “affordable housing” and other “housing goals.” CTU explained it wanted the district to “advocate for a city housing policy that creates affordable housing at a rate greater than or equal to the creation of market rate housing,” take the legislative position CTU wanted on “rent control” and institute a program to help its new teachers buy homes.

Experts admitted those types of subjects were outside the normal scope of bargaining, and that teachers unions continue expanding the scope of things they demand to include housing and social justice issues.

Ultimately, CTU’s “affordable housing” agenda failed to make it into the contract. But if Amendment 1 passes, Illinoisans can expect new subjects to be demanded in future negotiations by CTU and government unions all over the state.

Why? Because the amendment would allow government unions to demand broad new subjects under the label “economic welfare.” That isn’t defined, nor is it included in any other state constitution. It is completely untested and open-ended. Even proponents admit no one knows what could be included in new contracts should Amendment 1 pass.

Government union contracts already cost money. But because Amendment 1 would expand what can be negotiated – and give government unions a permanent right to go on strike to have their new demands met – the resulting, expanded contracts would cost even more.

And who would pay for the expensive new provisions? Taxpayers.

That cost could be covered by gas tax hikes, income tax hikes or other new taxes or fees. Just since Gov. J.B. Pritzker took office, Illinoisans have seen 24 new taxes and fees.

But the most likely source is increased property taxes. If property tax rates simply continue to increase at their long-run average rate, the typical homeowner will pay over $2,100 more in additional property taxes during the next four years.

Yet that’s just the baseline. Amendment 1 would likely accelerate that growth because it expands the bargaining power of government union bosses to negotiate over a nearly endless array of subjects, ultimately forcing all Illinoisans to pay the bill for costly contract concessions that carry more weight than state law and don’t exist in any other state. Exactly how much faster is an open question.

Voters all over Illinois can learn a lot from the history of CTU’s strikes. Even before Amendment 1, CTU was making demands that didn’t involve wages or benefits and went on strike – keeping kids out of school – in an attempt to force the district into caving.

If Amendment 1 passes, CTU and other government unions will have the power of the constitution to bludgeon government officials into meeting their expensive new demands. And taxpayers will be on the hook for it.

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