Chicago teachers who don’t want to walk out on students have options

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
January 5, 2022

Chicago teachers who don’t want to walk out on students have options

The Chicago Teachers Union refused to return to classrooms Jan. 5. Teachers who recognize the failings of remote learning and want to be there for their students have options.

Chicago Public Schools teachers face a tough decision in the coming days: Heed the Chicago Teachers Union demand to walk out on students Jan. 5 because their demands were not met, or put the best interests of students and themselves over the union’s power plays.

Whether refusing to work in person would constitute an official “strike” is a gray area under Illinois labor law, which allows teachers to go on strike only when there is no contract in place.

That means CTU’s current refusal to work in person while under a contract with CPS could be considered an illegal strike.

Teachers who participate could be disciplined by the school, including loss of pay. On the other hand, CTU can discipline members who don’t participate. It did so following the 2016 strike, which was also determined to be likely illegal.

Teachers who don’t want to engage in the strike have other options. They can opt out of the union while keeping all of the benefits provided in the contract. They can also join another professional organization and obtain liability insurance and job protection coverage at a fraction of the cost of union membership.

CPS teachers can opt out of the union

CPS teachers do not have to be members of CTU.

They can opt out of union membership and retain all benefits provided by CPS in the union contract. Those benefits include, but are not limited to, salary, raises, health care plans and seniority.

In other words, if a benefit is in the contract, it is guaranteed to teachers regardless of union membership.

While CTU requires teachers to pay dues through the year, anyone who opts out now will be considered a nonmember immediately. Dues deductions should stop in August, per communications some teachers reported receiving from the district after opting out.

In the meantime, CTU cannot punish teachers who opt out of membership and report to their classrooms.

Teachers interested in opting out can learn more and obtain the appropriate paperwork at

CPS teachers can join another professional organization

Teachers are free to join other organizations promoting professionalism and collaboration in the teaching profession.

One example is the Association of American Educators, which is not only the largest non-union educators’ organization in the nation, but also provides liability insurance and job protection coverage to teachers at a fraction of the cost of union membership.

That means teachers can keep their jobs, benefits and liability insurance without being members of CTU.

Teachers who disagree with CTU and its stance on reopening have real options. Opting out and joining another organization sends a message to CTU that it needs to start listening to the teachers it represents.

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