Pritzker signs bill making it easier for Chicago Teachers Union to walk out on students

Mailee Smith

Staff Attorney and Director of Labor Policy

Mailee Smith
/ Labor
April 8, 2021

Pritzker signs bill making it easier for Chicago Teachers Union to walk out on students

A new law gives the Chicago Teachers Union more leverage in contract negotiations, and more opportunities to go on strike. Eight of the nation’s 10 largest school districts prohibit teacher strikes.

The Chicago Teachers Union never seems to miss an opportunity to go on strike, but state leaders just gave them more opportunities to do so.

After going on strike three time between 2012 and 2019, the union nearly walked out again in 2021 to protest the reopening of Chicago Public Schools for in-person learning.

Newly signed legislation will give the union even more power to go on strike, using students as pawns in its political battle against Chicago Public Schools.

It’s a power that is denied to teachers’ unions in eight of the nation’s 10 largest school districts.

CTU’s increased power should alarm Chicago parents.

House Bill 2275, signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on April 4, repeals a portion of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act that limited negotiations between CPS and CTU to issues related to wages and benefits.

Now CPS will be forced to bargain over everything, including subjects such as class schedules and hours and places of instruction. Those issues were contentious earlier this year before CPS re-opened for elementary students.

The bottom line: The increased number of issues that must be resolved during bargaining increases opportunities for CTU to disagree with CPS – and escalates the union’s likelihood of going on strike.

CTU is already harnessing that power to push back against an April 19 start for the district’s high school students, who haven’t been inside a classroom for over a year. While the district wants high school students in the classroom four days a week, the union wants students in the classroom just two days a week.

“The only way to keep things safe in high school is to have low enough student attendance numbers so that you can have social distancing; that’s a function of scheduling,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

In other words, the union is preparing to fight over scheduling, and CTU likely will claim HB 2275 gives it the power to do so.

The union already has a long history of strong-arming parents and the district to get what it wants.

And while teachers in most of the nation’s largest school districts are not allowed to strike at all, Illinois has decided to go the opposite direction. It just broadened CTU’s ability to walk out on the district’s more than 340,000 students.

Clearly, increased CTU strike powers were the last thing CPS students needed.

CTU has a long history of strong-arming parents and the district to get what it wants 

Strike threats are not uncommon in Chicago. In fact, CTU prides itself in pushing the boundaries of its power through strikes.

Before the repealed restrictions were in place, CTU went on strike nine times: in 1969, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1980, 1983, 1984, 1985 and 1987.

Then legislation was enacted in 1995 that limited the issues the union could bargain and strike over.

Still, the union went on strike three times within seven years:

In fact, CTU’s actions earned two spots on a 2017 list of the top-10 largest labor strikes in the past decade.

Allowing CTU to strike over more issues only serves union interests, while harming the students and parents who will be left in the lurch when the union walks out.

Teachers strikes are illegal in eight of the 10 largest U.S. school districts

Illinois law allows teachers unions such as CTU to place their own agendas above what is best for the state’s public school students.

That isn’t the case in the other top 10 largest school districts in the U.S. In fact, teacher strikes are illegal in eight of the 10.

Going on strike has become CTU’s go-to weapon against the CPS administration. It was already completely sanctioned by state law.

Now, instead of pulling back on that power and bringing Chicago in line with other large school districts, Pritzker just made it easier for CTU to use threats against students’ educations as a way to push the union’s ever-growing political agenda.

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