Chicago teachers who don’t want to strike: Here are your options

Mailee Smith

Staff Attorney and Director of Labor Policy

Mailee Smith
/ Labor
October 7, 2019

Chicago teachers who don’t want to strike: Here are your options

Chicago Teachers Union has announced a strike authorization vote for Sept. 24 through Sept. 26, but teachers who are not members of the union have more freedom to decide whether to honor the strike.

The Chicago Teachers Union has scheduled a strike for Oct. 17 if the union doesn’t agree to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s deal for a 16% raise or reach another deal. Should CTU follow through with the strike, over 20,000 teachers will not receive a Chicago Public Schools paycheck for days spent on the picket line. CPS has indicated it will not make up days lost to a strike later in the year.

For any number of reasons – including loss of pay, disagreement with CTU leadership, or school responsibilities that they may deem too important to miss – some teachers may not want to walk out on Oct. 17.

Here are some answers and options.

Q: What happens if I am not a member of the union?

A: Nonmembers do not pay any fees to the union. But you are still guaranteed the benefits provided in the collective bargaining agreement.

That’s because decades ago, Illinois’ government union leaders lobbied for the exclusive right to represent all public employees – both members and nonmembers. And that means you retain all benefits provided in your collective bargaining agreement, regardless of membership status.

Examples may include the following:

  • Salary and raises
  • Health insurance
  • Pension benefits
  • Vacation days and holidays
  • Overtime pay
  • Seniority
  • Leaves of absence (including sick leave)

On the other hand, nonmembers are not entitled to perks guaranteed to members through the union’s internal rules or membership agreement. Examples may include:

  • Voting rights (on ratification of contracts, strike authorizations, etc.)
  • Holding union office or representing the union as a delegate to a convention
  • Utilizing union-negotiated discounts (for things such as additional life insurance, health clubs, tickets to events, etc.)
  • Maintaining any liability insurance the union provides, as opposed to insurance provided by the government employer
  • Receiving newsletters or other union publications
  • Attending special union events (such as meetings, picnics, Christmas parties, etc.)

Q: What about liability insurance and job protection?

A: Alternative associations – such as the Association of American Educators – offer liability insurance and job protection coverage, often at a fraction of the cost of union membership.

Q: What happens if I cross the picket line as a nonmember?

A: Nonmembers have more freedom than union members in choosing to go to work during a strike. The union has no disciplinary authority over nonmembers, so it cannot penalize them for working during a strike.

Q: What happens if I cross the picket line as a union member?

A: The union can penalize members who do not honor the strike through fines or other penalties.

Q: What happens if I go on strike as a nonmember?

A: Nonmembers who go on strike will be subject to the same potential repercussions as members who strike.

Not only are striking workers not paid during a strike, but under Illinois law, a government employer can replace striking workers. Depending on the type of strike, employees might not immediately be reinstated to their old jobs when the strike ends.

Q: How do I opt out of the union?

A: Fill out the form on Letters will be sent to CTU and CPS on your behalf, telling them you are resigning union membership and demanding that union dues stop coming out of your paycheck.

Q: What if CPS or CTU doesn’t honor my request to opt out of the union?

A: You can opt out of union membership at any time and protect yourself against union punishment – such as fines – should you choose to cross a picket line.

But some employers, influenced by union misinformation, are not immediately stopping dues deductions after employees opt out of union membership. And some unions – including CTU – are refusing to stop deducting dues unless requests are submitted within a specific time window dictated by internal union rules. For CTU, that window is Aug. 1 to Aug. 31.

We believe it is unconstitutional for employers and unions to continue deducting dues from nonmember paychecks. If you encounter any barriers in your effort to stop dues being deducted from your paycheck or have any other questions regarding opting out of union membership, you can contact us at

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