Illinois teachers unions have threatened to strike 188 times since 2010

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
August 18, 2023

Illinois teachers unions have threatened to strike 188 times since 2010

Illinois public school students are at a severe disadvantage. Educational unions here can strike, keeping kids out of school, but that’s not the case in other big cities or neighboring states.

Illinois teachers unions have a history of weaponizing strikes, no matter how much they harm students. With teachers union contracts in more than one-fourth of Illinois school districts expiring in 2023, that could be bad news for students in those districts.

Local affiliates of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and Illinois Education Association have threatened to strike 188 times, and actually taken to the picket lines 63 times since 2010, according to annual reports filed by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board.

It isn’t uncommon in Illinois for teacher strikes to happen – or be threatened – well into the school year. The Chicago Teachers Union’s most recent strike occurred in October 2019, after students had been in school for weeks.

Illinois is an outlier when it comes to teacher union strikes. Teacher strikes are prohibited in at least 35 states, including in every one of Illinois’ neighboring states.

Those prohibitions mean teacher strikes are illegal in eight of the 10 largest school districts in the nation, with Chicago being one of the two districts where strikes are allowed.

CTU provides a case study in how unions routinely overuse this power, hurting students and other Illinois residents. The 2019 CTU strike kept students out of class for 11 of the 15 days it lasted, and the subsequent contract was projected to cost taxpayers $1.5 billion, according to the Chicago Tribune. During a strike in 2012, students missed seven days of instruction. The strike also had longer-term effects: Chicago Public Schools had to close 50 schools and lay off thousands of teachers due in part to the expensive contract that followed.

Los Angeles – the only other district among the 10 largest where striking is allowed – has also been rocked my multiple teachers union walk outs in recent years.

Back in Illinois, CTU isn’t the only teachers union to walk out on students in the past 10 years. It’s a power play used by large and small unions alike in the state.

In 2019, 76 teachers in Mendota Elementary School District 289 walked out on students for eight days, according to data with the Illinois State Board of Education. In 2018, 465 teachers at Geneva Community Unit School District 304 walked out for five days. In 2014, 1,200 full and part-time teachers in Waukegan Community School District 60 walked out on students for 20 days. That same year, 680 teachers and paraprofessionals in Galesburg Community Unit School District 205 went on strike for 10 days.

Teachers union strikes aren’t just inconvenient for parents and students – they can academically hurt youngsters.

For example, one study found that long strikes of 10 or more days have a significant negative effect on math test scores. Another found that extended work disruptions have negative effects on math and English achievement.

The Illinois State Board of Education reports that at least 220 of almost 900 collective bargaining agreements with educational unions throughout the state expire in 2023, nearly all during the summer.

If those agreements aren’t renegotiated before school starts, it could mean strikes after school is already in session.

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