Amendment 1 will cement teacher strikes in Illinois Constitution

Mailee Smith

Staff Attorney and Director of Labor Policy

Mailee Smith
October 21, 2021

Amendment 1 will cement teacher strikes in Illinois Constitution

Voters will decide in November 2022 whether teachers’ unions will have a permanent right to walk out on students.

Teachers’ unions in Illinois have threatened to strike 164 times, then actually taken to the picket lines 48 times in the past 10 years, according to annual reports filed by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board.

Illinois is an outlier when it comes to teacher union strikes. Teacher strikes are illegal in eight of the 10 largest school districts in the nation, with Chicago being one of the two districts where strikes are allowed.

Nearly all of Illinois’ neighboring states explicitly prohibit teacher strikes.

But Illinois could push even farther from the norm. The power of teachers’ unions to walk out on students could become permanently embedded in the Illinois Constitution.

State lawmakers this spring passed Amendment 1, a proposal to change the Illinois Constitution and increase government union powers. Voters will determine its fate on Nov. 8, 2022.

While it’s being dubbed a “Worker’s Rights Amendment,” that’s not an accurate description.

Included in the language is the following provision: “No law shall be passed that interferes with, negates, or diminishes the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively over their wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment and work place safety….”

Lawmakers will never be able pull back on union power if the amendment passes. That includes the power to go on strike, because striking and threatening to strike are bargaining tools union leaders often use during negotiations.

Educational unions must give 10 days’ notice to the labor board before walking out under Illinois law. While not all threats lead to strikes, many do, which is bad news for students because strikes hold their educations hostage.

The Chicago Teachers Union provides a case study in how unions routinely overuse this power, hurting students and other Illinois residents. The 2019 CTU strike kept students out of class for 11 of the 15 days it lasted, and the subsequent contract was projected to cost residents an average of $80 a year in higher property taxes.  During a strike in 2012, students missed seven days of instruction. The strike also had longer-term effects: CPS had to close 50 schools and lay off thousands of teachers due in part to the expensive contract that followed.

CTU isn’t the only union to walk out on students in the past 10 years. It’s a power play used by large and small unions alike.

In 2019, 76 teachers in Mendota Elementary School District 289 walked out on students for eight days. In 2018, 465 teachers at Geneva Community Unit School District 304 walked out for five days. In 2014, 1,200 full and part-time teachers in Waukegan Community School District 60 walked out on students for 20 days. That same year, 680 teachers and paraprofessionals in Galesburg Community Unit School District 205 went on strike for 10 days.

But even if the Illinois General Assembly unanimously passed legislation curtailing or prohibiting strikes by teachers’ unions, the provision arguably would be invalid under the proposed Amendment 1. That’s because it would “interfere with” or “diminish” the right to “bargain collectively."

While Amendment 1 would clearly be a boon for union leaders and their power, it comes at the expense of Illinois’ school children, parents and taxpayers. Voters have a year to decide whether that power would be in the state’s best interests.

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