CTU-backed Amendment 1 would give teachers unions power over Illinois parents

Mailee Smith

Staff Attorney and Director of Labor Policy

Mailee Smith
February 15, 2022

CTU-backed Amendment 1 would give teachers unions power over Illinois parents

Chicago Teachers Union takes credit for spreading the “new gospel” of union strike power across the nation. If the CTU-backed Amendment 1 passes in November, it will lock the union’s militant tactics into the state constitution, to the detriment of children and parents statewide.

The Chicago Teachers Union provides a case study in how government unions will use their power in school districts across Illinois if voters pass Amendment 1 in November.

CTU has gone on strike three times in three school years. In its latest work stoppage, over 330,000schoolchildren missed five days of school. Parents were notified of the walkout after 11 p.m. on a school night, leaving them just hours to develop a back-up plan after the union decided not to show up for in-person classes.

While Chicago Public Schools may seem far away – both geographically and politically – from other districts in the state, no district will be safe from this sort of government union power if Amendment 1 passes.

That’s because CTU is poised to take its militant tactics to school districts across the state.

CTU and its parent affiliate, Illinois Federation of Teachers, both publicly registered support – twice – for Amendment 1 when it was before the Illinois General Assembly.

Inaccurately dubbed a “workers’ rights amendment,” the amendment would actually place four labor provisions into the Illinois Constitution: 1) a “fundamental right” to organize and bargain; 2) the right to bargain over wages, hours, working conditions, economic welfare and safety at work – i.e., virtually anything; 3) a prohibition forbidding lawmakers from ever interfering with, negating or diminishing those rights; and 4) a prohibition against right-to-work laws.

Here’s how this plays out: unions will be able to demand anything during negotiations and go on strike to get their demands met. Lawmakers won’t be able to restrict what unions can negotiate, nor will they be able to limit when or how often they can go on strike.

Any such restrictions aimed at protecting Illinoisans arguably would run afoul of the state constitution.

What’s more, government union contracts would carry the weight of the Illinois Constitution. Government unions would be able to rewrite law through union contracts, and lawmakers’ hands would be tied, leaving voters powerless to hold anyone accountable.

No other state constitutions include any of these provisions, let alone all four – which would give government unions in Illinois the most extreme powers in the nation.

CTU’s power grab isn’t surprising. It has a long history of using its power to pummel Chicago Public Schools into meeting its demands.

A 2019 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.  An illegal strike in 2016 cost students another day of school. During a strike in 2012, students missed seven days of instruction. The strike also had long-term effects: CPS had to close 50 schools and lay off thousands of teachers due in part to the expensive contract that followed.

The union also takes credit for triggering union strikes in other states and teaching those unions to demand contract provisions that go beyond the pale of normal negotiations over wages and benefits.

CTU proudly displays a 2019 Vox article on its website claiming that CTU was behind a rash of teacher strikes between 2012 and 2019 – and demonstrated for those unions they could “put things on the table that hadn’t been on the table before.”

After its own strike ended in 2012, “union leaders planned town halls in other cities across the country, in New York and Cleveland, San Francisco and Tampa, to spread the new gospel.”

The Vox article credits CTU with laying the groundwork for strikes in Los Angeles, West Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma, Oakland, Denver, Kentucky and “elsewhere.”

“All owed a debt to Chicago,” it claims.

As for the West Virginia strike, the article notes, “strikes are technically illegal in their right-to-work state, but they walked out anyway.”

CTU has followed its own playbook in recent years, demanding provisions completely unrelated to COVID-19 safety and protocols, such as defunding the police and district support for rent abatement.

If CTU can spread its militant tactics across the nation, it certainly can across the state. Especially if those tactics are permanently protected by the Illinois Constitution itself.

That’s bad news for students and parents in districts all over Illinois.

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