Labor board finds CTU’s April 1 strike likely illegal

Jeffrey Schwab

Jeffrey Schwab is a senior attorney with the Liberty Justice Center.

Jeffrey Schwab
April 27, 2016

Labor board finds CTU’s April 1 strike likely illegal

The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board determined there is enough evidence of the illegality of CTU’s April 1 walkout for CPS to pursue a court order to prevent CTU from waging any similar strikes.

On April 21, the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, or IELRB, found that the Chicago Teachers Union’s, or CTU’s, one-day strike on April 1 was likely illegal, and that, accordingly, Chicago Public Schools, or CPS, should be allowed to pursue a court order to prevent CTU from holding future illegal strikes.

“Contrary to the union’s argument, I don’t think that there’s a serious legal issue about the illegality of the strike,” IELRB Chair Andrea Waintroob said. If the board ultimately finds against the union, it could also require CTU to reimburse CPS (and taxpayers) for the cost of the strike.

In response to the ruling, CTU released a statement asserting that “[t]he governor’s labor board is prosecuting its war on workers.” But CTU can’t blame Gov. Bruce Rauner for the IELRB ruling: Three of the five members of the board were originally appointed by Democratic governors.

Furthermore, CTU was simply wrong on the legal issue: Nothing in the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act, which governs education unions in Illinois, authorizes CTU to strike in response to an alleged unfair labor practice by a school district.

CTU argued that federal law allows unions to strike if an unfair labor practice occurs. But federal law governs only private-sector unions, while each state has authority to govern its own government-worker unions. CTU can point to no legal authority to support a claim that the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act should be interpreted in the same manner as federal law and regulations on private-sector unions.

Indeed, governments have an especially strong interest in limiting the ability of government unions to strike because strikes by government employees can harm innocent third parties – in this case, children who had to miss school. Government-worker unions, whose members serve the public generally, should not have the ability to strike every time they feel an unfair labor practice has occurred. This is especially true when, as in this case, the board in an earlier ruling concerning pay raises had already rejected CTU’s assertion that an unfair labor practice had occurred.

In fact, CTU’s one-day strike was more about making a political statement than it was about challenging an unfair labor practice. CTU’s website said the strike was a call for “increased revenue for [CPS] and its students, and a direct response to continued attacks and efforts toward union-busting from Gov. Bruce Rauner, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the mayor’s handpicked CPS CEO, Forrest Claypool.”

Still, as the parties continue to litigate the legality of CTU’s one-day strike, it is almost certain that CTU will strike in May over the failure of CPS and CTU to agree to a collective bargaining agreement. CTU President Karen Lewis asserted that there is a “100 percent” chance of CTU’s striking in late May.

Such a strike would be legal so long as all the requirements were met under Illinois law. On April 16, CTU rejected the report of an independent fact-finder, who recommended the union accept a four-year contract similar to one CPS proposed. Under Illinois law, CTU may strike 30 days after the report is rejected and made public so long as it holds a vote of its members and gives CPS 10 days’ notice. This means the earliest CTU could strike is May 16.

Even if a strike in May would be legal, CTU should think twice about striking for demands that would hit an already financially distressed CPS – and Chicago taxpayers – with additional costs, result in layoffs for thousands of teachers, and help drive CPS further toward the brink of insolvency.

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