Under Illinois strike laws, everyone loses

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
November 6, 2017

Under Illinois strike laws, everyone loses

Palatine-area District 15 support staff returned to work at the end of October, following a two-week strike. But workers are still without a contract, making the strike nothing more than a show of union muscle at the expense of workers, students and parents.

Hundreds of Palatine-area District 15 workers, including school nurses, sign language interpreters and others, who walked off the job for two weeks returned to work Oct. 30, 2017.

But harm has already been done to students and to the workers themselves. And to what end?

The workers are still without a contract. Workers who went on strike risked loss of wages and benefits. And, of course, students in need were left without important support staff for two full school weeks.

Despite the harm caused by striking government worker unions, a government worker union’s ability to disrupt school services is a “right” under Illinois law.

With District 15 support staff still without a contract, students and workers aren’t out of the woods yet.

The union has refused the district’s last, best offer – an offer that included guaranteed 2 percent wage increases for five years and $9,000-per-employee retirement benefits through 2019, according to the Daily Herald. Instead, the union wants 2.5 percent annual wage increases and the continuation of a $9,000-per-employee retirement benefit beyond 2019.

In the meantime, the union could call another strike in order to push the district to meet its demands.

That power stacks the deck against residents who depend on government services.

Under Illinois law, the ‘right’ to strike is enshrined in state law

Government workers in Illinois have an affirmative “right” to strike under the Illinois Labor Relations Act and the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act.

That means Illinois law does more than just allow government worker strikes. It protects as a “right” the option of walking out on residents, threatening to shut down necessary government services.

That’s a powerful tool. When a government worker union in Illinois doesn’t get its way in negotiations, it can threaten to shut down state and local governments or schools – and the services residents need and pay for through tax dollars – in order to have its demands met.

Residents have no similar tools.

A school district union can walk out on parents and students – but the parents and students can do nothing about it.

A state worker union can walk out on children and families counting on government services – but those children and families can do nothing about it.

That means government worker unions hold a disproportionate share of the power when it comes to negotiations. They can make demands and walk out if those demands are not met.

As demonstrated by the District 15 strike, that leaves residents’ day-to-day lives under the control of government worker unions.

Neighboring states prohibit strikes by government workers

Illinois is the outlier in the region. Surrounding states do not recognize an affirmative “right” to strike.

In fact, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri and Kentucky prohibit strikes by all or most government workers.

These prohibitions restore the balance of power between those who work for government, such as the striking workers in District 15, and those who do not, such as the students and their parents.

Until Illinois prohibits strikes by government workers, government worker unions will continue to have the upper hand in negotiations.

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