Amendment 1 would cement strikes as go-to weapon for Chicago Teachers Union
The Chicago Teachers Union has gone on strike five times and walked out on students at least three other times since it got the right to strike in 1984. Gaining greater power through Amendment 1 would embolden militant union tactics.
Teachers’ unions in Illinois have readily used strikes and strike threats since they were granted the weapon in 1984. The Chicago Teachers Union has been quick to use work stoppages to get their way, despite the impact of taking 49 days of instruction away from students.
But the tactic has limits, and government union bosses are asking for a change to the Illinois Constitution that would essentially remove curbs, expand the right to strike and make it near impossible to ever limit strike powers. Unions are pushing Amendment 1 at the ballot box Nov. 8, and it would give parents even less say about CTU or other teachers unions walking out on students.
Allowance of right to strike in Illinois state law
Despite having limited powers of collective bargaining prior to 1984, many public school employees engaged in collective bargaining, including illegal strikes. These strikes became so ingrained in Illinois public education labor practices prior to their recognition by state law that the adoption of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act in 1984 has been deemed a “strike-driven statute.”
Rather than prohibiting strikes, the IELRA instead tried to rein in the use of labor strikes.
Illinois public school teachers gained the right to strike as the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act took effect. Among other things, this act allowed public teachers unions to use strikes to resolve collective bargaining impasses. The act outlined the requirements for an educational union to call for a work stoppage, including giving 10 days’ notice to the labor board before walking out.
Since the IELRA took effect in 1984, CTU has gone on strike five times. Even before educational unions were given an explicit right to strike, CTU went on strike six times in 15 years, attributing most of these strikes to demands for higher salaries and smaller class sizes. Those strikes took place in 1969, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1980 and 1983. In total, CTU has gone on strike 11 times, not including walkouts by the union that did not follow the statutorily mandated strike procedures.
Current and former CTU teachers in the Members First Caucus recently accused union leadership of viewing “work stoppages and strikes as the first step, and not the last one.” This quick-trigger treatment of strikes has led to concern CTU overuses its right to strike.
CTU’s use of strikes has cost district students 49 school days in the 38 years since CTU was given the right to strike, not including additional days lost due to walkouts such as those in 2016, 2021 and 2022.
During the past 38 years, strikes have forced CPS students to miss:
- 11 days in 2019
- Seven days in 2012
- 19 days in 1987
- Two days in 1985
- 10 days in 1984
Pandemic-era walkouts by CTU
More recently, the union has used walkouts to force Chicago Public Schools to meet their COVID-19 protocol demands.
In January 2021, the union’s refusal to report to school forced the district to cancel in-person learning for 3,000 preschool and special education students who had already been meeting in schools, creating yet another hurdle for special education students who struggle in classes.
Sarah Sachen’s children are among those Chicago Public School students who receive Individualized Education Plans – or special education services legally required to be given to students with learning disabilities – and have suffered from the disruptions to in-person instruction since the pandemic.
“My middle two, in sixth and third grade, are on Individualized Education Plans, and are still over a year behind due to the school closures,” Sachen said. “Remote learning is dreadful for children with special needs.”
Nearly a year later, in January 2022, CTU once again refused to return to in-person instruction, forcing students to lose five days of class and parents to scramble to find child care alternatives after receiving notice at 11:38 p.m. that the next day’s classes had been canceled.
CPS parents are frustrated watching their children’s learning hang in the balance of union leaders’ demands.
“If union leaders feel that their demands aren’t being met, they’ll go on strike,” said CPS parent Toni Larocco. “It’s completely ridiculous and childish to play politics with children.”
Permanent right to walk out on students with passage of Amendment 1
The enactment of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act in 1984 allowed teachers unions to strike and district students to lose instructional days as school boards and union leaders negotiated over union demands. And CTU’s history illustrates how this law plays out in practice.
Among its neighbors, Illinois is an outlier in its allowance of teacher strikes in state law. All of its neighboring states explicitly prohibit teacher strikes.
But even if the Illinois General Assembly unanimously passed legislation and Illinois joined its neighboring states to curtail or prohibit strikes by teachers’ unions, the provision arguably would be invalid if Amendment 1 passes.
The so-called “Workers’ Rights” amendment proposes to change the Illinois Constitution and increase government union powers. 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 workplace safety….”
If Amendment 1 passes Nov. 8, any prohibitions against teachers’ union strikes proposed by elected lawmakers would be invalid. That’s because such prohibitions would “interfere with” or “diminish” the right of teachers to “bargain collectively.’ This language is broad, making it difficult to predict all the ramifications of the provisions that could fall under the amendment if it is passes.
Amendment 1 would permanently enshrine the right of teachers’ union leaders to demand that teachers walk out on Illinois children. And parents and elected lawmakers alike would be unable to counter this power once it is enshrined in the state constitution.