Pritzker signs bill allowing Chicago Public Schools principals to unionize

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
February 11, 2023

Pritzker signs bill allowing Chicago Public Schools principals to unionize

Chicago Public Schools principals already make nearly 30% more than their peers in the rest of the state. A newly signed law allows them to unionize and push for even more.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker just signed a bill allowing principals within Chicago Public Schools to unionize and bargain.

While supervisory employees have not traditionally had a right to unionize, House Bill 5107 redefines who constitutes a “managerial employee” within CPS. Under the new language, only those who negotiate with unions or formulate district-wide policies are prohibited from unionizing.

And that means principals, assistant principals and other important administrative staff within the district could now be able to unionize.

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 reveals principals within CPS make an average of $149,628 – nearly 30% more than their counterparts in the rest of the state.

Now they will be able to demand virtually anything through their union, and potentially go on strike to get those demands met.

Unionized CPS principals will be able to demand virtually anything in negotiations

Voters in November 2022 approved a new amendment to the Illinois Constitution that allows government unions to negotiate over wages, hours, working conditions, economic welfare and safety at work.

The language of the amendment also explicitly states lawmakers cannot negate or diminish the right of employees to negotiate and bargain.

That means a principals union would be able to demand virtually anything and go on strike to get those demands met.

While the bill includes language appearing to prohibit principals from going on strike, it isn’t as straightforward as it seems. A principals union may argue that Amendment 1 allows them to go on strike. A union could argue that by prohibiting principals from going on strike, the state is violating the part of the amendment prohibiting lawmakers from diminishing their rights.

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

Union control of CPS has already created instability for students and families

The Chicago Teachers Union, which represents teachers within CPS, has caused five work stoppages in just the past 11 years. Teacher strikes are illegal in eight of the largest 10 school districts in the nation, with the exceptions of Chicago and Los Angeles.

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.

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 utilized for classroom-centric needs.

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 to keep kids in school.

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,      principals in other parts of the state – who make less than CPS principals, on average – 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.

It’s starting already in Chicago with principals. But it’s unlikely to stop there.

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