Ep. 58: The Chicago Teachers Union’s 2019 strike three years later

Ep. 58: The Chicago Teachers Union’s 2019 strike three years later

This week’s Policy Shop comes from Mailee Smith, staff attorney and director of labor policy at the Illinois Policy Institute

Three years ago, the Chicago Teachers Union walked out on students. The strike lasted 11 school days, and the resulting five-year contract is estimated to cost taxpayers $1.5 billion.

In the 12 years since the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, or CORE, leadership took over CTU, families have faced five strikes and work stoppages, students have been out of class for a collective 24 days, and test scores have plummeted.

If Amendment 1 passes in November, radical government unions such as CTU will have a right to demand virtually anything – and go on strike to get those demands met.

A look back: In 2019, CTU was demanding more than the typical contract subjects. Government unions in Illinois already have a right to negotiate over a wide variety of subjects, including wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment. But CTU also demanded “affordable housing” and other “housing goals.” CTU explained it wanted the district to “advocate for a city housing policy that creates affordable housing at a rate greater than or equal to the creation of market rate housing,” take the legislative position CTU wanted on “rent control” and institute a program to help its new teachers buy homes.

Experts admitted those types of subjects were outside the normal scope of bargaining, and that teachers’ unions were expanding the scope of things they demand to include housing and social justice issues. Ultimately, CTU’s “affordable housing” agenda was not negotiated into the contract.

The change: The union nearly walked out again in 2021 to protest the reopening of Chicago Public Schools for in-person learning. Later that year, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation that gave the union even more power to go on strike, using students as pawns in its political battle against Chicago Public Schools.

Then in January 2022 CTU again was protesting in-person learning and they did walk out, leaving parents scrambling overnight to find child care. The move cost students five days of classes.

Only two of the nation’s 10 largest school districts can go on strike: Los Angeles is the other.

A look ahead: CTU’s willingness to push its limits when it comes to demands provides an example of what’s at stake if Amendment 1 were to pass in November. Illinoisans can expect new subjects to be demanded in future negotiations by CTU and government unions all over the state.

Why? Because the amendment would allow government unions to demand broad new subjects under the label “economic welfare.” That isn’t defined, nor is it included in any other state constitution. It is completely untested and open-ended. Even proponents admit no one knows what could be included in new contracts should Amendment 1 pass. On Nov. 8, Illinoisans will vote on whether to give unions such as CTU the permanent right to make broad new demands and go on strike to get those demands met.

Pay up: Government union contracts already cost money. But because Amendment 1 expands what can be negotiated – and gives government unions a permanent right to go on strike to have their new demands met – the resulting, expanded contracts will cost even more.

That cost could be covered by gas tax hikes, income tax hikes or other new taxes or fees. Just since Pritzker took office, Illinoisans have seen 24 new taxes and fees.

But the most likely source is increased property taxes. If property tax rates simply continue to increase at their long-run average rate, the typical homeowner will pay over $2,100 more in additional property taxes during the next four years. Amendment 1 would likely accelerate that growth because it expands the bargaining power of government union bosses to negotiate over a nearly endless array of subjects.

Voters all over Illinois can learn a lot from the history of CTU’s strikes. Even before Amendment 1, CTU was making demands that didn’t involve wages or benefits and went on strike – keeping kids out of school – in an attempt to force the district into caving.

If Amendment 1 passes, CTU and other government unions will have the power of the constitution to bludgeon government officials into meeting their expensive new demands. And taxpayers will be on the hook for it.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!