Strike cost Chicago students 5 days; Amendment 1 could cost them many more

Strike cost Chicago students 5 days; Amendment 1 could cost them many more

Voters will decide Nov. 8 whether the Chicago Teachers Union will have a permanent right to walk out on students for whatever reason union bosses decide.

Toni Larocco knows the cost of the Chicago Teachers Union’s power struggle over COVID-19 testing with Chicago Public Schools, and it’s more than five days of missed classes.

“My daughter cried Thursday and Friday because the schools were closed. My 11-year-old asked if she could switch schools just so she can have in-person classes,” Larocco said. “That’s heartbreaking as a parent, to hear that she would leave everything just to attend school in person.”

Chicago Public Schools students lost five of their first seven days of classes in 2022 because the Chicago Teachers Union walked out on students Jan. 5 – the union’s third work stoppage in 27 months. The dispute was over COVID-19 testing and remote learning, although Chicago’s top health official and other large city schools saw no need to suspend in-person learning.

On Nov. 8, Illinoisians will vote on whether to give unions such as CTU the permanent right to strike over virtually anything. A proposed amendment to the Illinois Constitution would give union bosses powers that even lawmakers couldn’t repeal, and make them the only special interest with that much privilege.

The Illinois General Assembly in Spring 2021 placed Amendment 1 on the upcoming ballot. The proposal’s language includes the following: “No law shall be passed that interferes with, negates, or diminishes the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively over their wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment and work place safety….”

Lawmakers will never be able pull back on union power – including the power to strike – if the amendment passes because that would be diminishing union rights to organize or bargain. Union bosses would gain unrestrained power to strike over virtually anything, which could mean more strikes at the expense of students and families.

CTU has already demonstrated a willingness to strike over COVID-19 public health policy, despite the science, but its political agenda and negotiating tactics have been applied to much more. CTU has tried to negotiate its social agenda on housing, immigration, “restorative justice,” wealth redistribution and defunding the police.

Plus the union power plays already spread far beyond Chicago. Illinois is an outlier when it comes to teacher strikes.

Teachers unions in Illinois have threatened to strike 164 times, then actually taken to the picket lines 48 times in the past 10 years, according to annual reports filed by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board.

Nearly all of Illinois’ neighboring states explicitly prohibit teacher strikes. Yet, Amendment 1 could see them becoming a more frequent tool of negotiation by educational unions across the state.

Under Illinois law, educational unions must give 10 days’ notice to the labor board before walking out, yet CTU gave parents about 8 hours to find child care or take off work before the most recent walk out. CTU is Exhibit A in how unions routinely overuse existing powers, hurting students and fellow Illinoisans.

The 2019 CTU strike kept students out of class for 11 days, and the subsequent contract was projected to cost residents an average of $80 a year in higher property taxes. There was a day lost in 2016 and a strike in 2012 cost students seven days of instruction.

The 2012 strike also had longer-term effects: CPS had to close 50 schools and lay off thousands of teachers, in part because of the expensive contract that followed.

Although an agreement was reached between CPS and CTU in the latest dispute, five days of learning loss is another blow to students who lost too much time to the pandemic, to parents who struggle with remote learning and to a district that routinely underperforms state averages. The walkout also shows the likely future of education were Amendment 1 to pass.

“My middle two, in sixth and third grade, are on individualized education plans, and are still over a year behind due to the school closures. Remote learning is dreadful for children with special needs,” said Sarah Sachen, who has four children in Chicago schools. “It’s so difficult to catch them up. They need to be in a classroom.”

Amendment 1 offers the potential to put her children out of their classrooms more often.

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