Illinois House bill would give more power to Chicago Public Schools unions

Mailee Smith

Staff Attorney and Director of Labor Policy

Mailee Smith
January 10, 2023

Illinois House bill would give more power to Chicago Public Schools unions

The Chicago Teachers Union has already created havoc for kids and parents in Chicago Public Schools, with 5 work stoppages in the past 11 years. Now lawmakers are giving principals and other employees union powers, creating more potential instability for students and parents.

The Chicago Teachers Union doesn’t shy away from going on strike to get what it wants. Some members, particularly those within its Members First caucus, have criticized CTU leadership as “see[ing] work stoppages and strikes as the first step, and not the last one” in negotiations with Chicago Public Schools.

Now even more employees within CPS will have the power to unionize – and potentially go on strike – creating even more disruption in the lives of school children.

Lawmakers in the Illinois General Assembly passed House Bill 5107 during the legislature’s “lame duck” session. While supervisory employees have not traditionally had a right to unionize, the bill redefines who constitutes a “managerial employee” within CPS to include only those who negotiate with unions or formulate district-wide policies.

What does that mean? Principals and other important administrative staff within the district will now be able to join a union.

The average salary for a principal in Illinois is $116,398, according to the Illinois State Board of Education’s 2021 annual report. But ISBE’s data on principals’ salaries statewide shows CPS principals average $149,628 – nearly 30% more than their peers in the rest of the state. Yet they are pushing to unionize.

CTU has a history of keeping kids out of school to get what it wants

CTU has caused five work stoppages in just the past 11 years.

A January 2022 CTU walkout resulted in over 330,000 schoolchildren missing 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 – as most folks were asleep – after the union decided not to show up.

That shut-down followed canceled classes in January 2021, when CTU refused to return to school for in-person learning. Before that there was the 2019 strike, which resulted in 11 days of missed school. An illegal strike in 2016 cost students another day of school. And a strike in 2012 left kids out of school for seven days of instruction.

In short, work stoppages have been CTU’s go-to “bargaining” tool for years. The union even takes credit for triggering multiple teachers union strikes around the nation in the past decade.

Now families within CPS could be subject to still more learning disruptions and schedule hardships created by even more government unions within the district.

More government union power within CPS will only cause more labor strife

HB 5107 states “educational supervisors” whose position requires an administrative license cannot go on strike. That should preclude principals from going on strike.

But it isn’t as straightforward as it seems. A principals union may argue Amendment 1, the new collective bargaining amendment to the Illinois Constitution, allows them to go on strike. The language of the amendment explicitly states lawmakers cannot negate or diminish the right of employees to negotiate and bargain. A union could argue that by prohibiting principals from going on strike, the state is unconstitutionally diminishing one of their tools of collective bargaining.

What’s more, the new law doesn’t prevent other administrative employees, who do not have administrative licenses, from going on strike and interrupting the school day.

CPS already has to negotiate with 10 other unions representing employees, including CTU. More unions, or special sub-units created within the current unions to include any newly organized employees, means more time negotiating – and more money spent on negotiations – and less time and money used for classrooms.

The last thing CPS students need is more government union negotiations and strikes.

It’s also the last thing taxpayers need. Strikes push school districts into giving into costly union demands in order to keep the peace or get kids back in class.

HB 5107 is limited to CPS – for now

The language of HB 5107 limits its reach to “a school district organized under Article 34 of the School Code.” In other words, it only applies to Chicago Public Schools.

But it paves the way for principals to unionize in other parts of the state. The broad language of Amendment 1 already grants a right for any “employees” to unionize and bargain. The plain language of the amendment would include all school district employees, including principals.

If principals in Chicago have the right, it follows that principals in other parts of the state would have the right as well.

This is a consequence of the broad language in Amendment 1. Because there is no limiting or clarifying language, it grants permanent union rights to all state and local government employees in the state.

It’s starting already in Chicago with principals. But it isn’t likely to stop there.

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