Chicago Teachers Union’s illegal strike is over, but parents sue to stop next one
Parents of Chicago Public Schools students sued to end the “remote work action” by Chicago Teachers Union members that kept 340,000 students out of classrooms for five days. The walkout is over, but the lawsuit is continuing to prevent the next illegal strike.
A compromise between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers’ Union over COVID-19 safety measures saw schools reopen Jan. 12 after a sudden union walkout kept more than 340,000 students from returning to class for five days.
But a group of CPS parents alleging the “remote work action” called by the CTU members was actually an illegal strike are seeking a court ruling to prevent similar labor actions in the future.
The complaint filed Jan. 7 in Cook County Circuit Court alleges the strike declared just eight hours before classes began Jan. 5 violated state labor laws and union collective bargaining agreements.
The plaintiffs argue union leaders have consistently used the threat of strikes to leverage concessions from CPS leaders, impeding students’ return to in-person learning during the pandemic. They said after CTU declared a third strike in just 28 months, judicial intervention is necessary.
CTU members voted for the walkout late Jan. 4 over concerns for teachers and other CPS employees amid a record-breaking surge in COVID-19 cases. Chicago’s top doctor said that worry was not supported by the science. It also came even though large school districts in New York and Los Angeles were still in session.
The union asserted the vote for a “remote work action” was not a strike, as the organization only demanded CPS allow members to teach students remotely. The Chicago Board of Education and parents disagreed.
“Although CTU claims its teachers are willing to work remotely, teachers may not work remotely without the approval of the Chicago Board of Education,” the parents said in their complaint. “CTU members voted to refuse to teach under the conditions set forth by CPS. That is a strike by definition.”
The lawsuit filed during negotiations between CPS officials and CTU leaders originally sought an emergency order requiring the union to halt the remote action and return to classrooms.
The parents who filed suit were among those left scrambling to make last-minute arrangements for their children after classes were canceled at 11:38 pm Jan. 4. Some didn’t realize they needed to arrange child care or take off work until the next morning.
Sarah Sachen has four children in Chicago schools. She said CTU’s strikes make it difficult for student and parents to adjust.
“The strike just disrupts everything because you’re ripping schedules out from children who are used to a defined structure,” Sachen said. “And it’s created a panic for me, because I’m brought back to that moment of the hell that was the pandemic and remote learning. Remote learning is dreadful for children with special needs.”
Despite classes resuming a week later, the CPS parents represented by attorneys from the Liberty Justice Center will continue the litigation against CTU to stop future strikes.
CTU has gone far beyond using its power to negotiate wages and benefits for members. It has tried to negotiate its social agenda on housing, immigration, “restorative justice,” wealth redistribution and defunding the police.
As often as CTU goes rogue, it could get worse if the union-backed Amendment 1 is passed by voters Nov. 8. That proposed change to the Illinois Constitution would give unions such as CTU the permanent right to strike over virtually anything and stop state lawmakers from curbing those powers.
CTU’s aggressive tactics have made it a political force in Chicago and driven up property taxes, but have failed to change the chronic academic underpeformance of city schools. Giving it special protection in the state constitution is unlikely to deliver anything but more canceled classes and more frustrated parents.