The Chicago Tribune published this commentary from Liberty Justice Center attorney Jeffrey Schwab on Jan. 21, 2021.
The Chicago Teachers Union approved a measure Wednesday night that would call for all staff to work remotely Monday, including those K-8 teachers scheduled to work at school that day. If the teachers who refuse to work in person are blocked from using their remote teaching devices, CTU’s resolution would authorize a full strike. The measure goes to a membershipwide vote, which closes at midnight on the following Saturday.
But in our view, CTU’s resolution not only violates Illinois law, it also violates the current collective bargaining agreement between Chicago Public Schools and CTU.
In the November 2019 collective bargaining agreement, CTU agreed not to strike or picket during the term of the contract. That doesn’t change even if CPS engages in an unfair labor practice or allegedly requires teachers to work in an unsafe environment.
Further, Illinois law prevents CTU from engaging in a strike unless specific conditions are met. Among those conditions are circumstances that have not yet occurred, or will not occur anytime soon. Even new legislation supported by CTU, House Bill 2275 allowing more collective bargaining rights, does not change these requirements.
The law prohibits a strike unless the collective bargaining agreement between CPS and CTU has expired or been terminated. That has not happened.
Illinois law requires that “mediation has been used without success” and 14 days has elapsed since the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board made the parties’ offers public. That also has not happened.
The law requires that at least three-fourths of CTU’s members approve the strike, and at least 10 days have elapsed after CTU gives CPS a notice of intent to strike. That hasn’t yet happened and certainly won’t happen by Monday.
CTU is attempting to justify its illegal actions by claiming that this strike is not a “contract strike” but an “unfair labor practice” strike. But under Illinois law, there’s no such thing as an “unfair labor practice” strike. Illinois law provides only one provision authorizing CTU to strike. And the conditions found there are required to be met before CTU can engage in anystrike.
CTU appears to claim that its action in organizing teachers to work remotely when they are required to work at school is not a strike because the teachers are still working. But teachers are being called back to the school buildings, in part, to prepare their classrooms for the returning students the following week. By refusing to carry out job responsibilities that can only be done in person — preparing their classrooms — teachers are refusing to work and disrupting students from returning to school. That is exactly the same as a strike that disrupts the operation of a public school, which the contract prohibits.
CTU also appears to claim that preventing teachers from teaching remotely through their computer devices when they are supposed to be teaching at school is a violation of the bargaining agreement. The contract does prevent CPS from locking out teachers from work. But by preventing teachers who do not show up to school from teaching remotely via their laptops, CPS is not locking teachers out of working at all — it is simply requiring them to work at school. CTU’s wordplay does not justify its claim that CPS is violating the contract.
After nearly a full academic year without students receiving in-person learning drawn out by CTU’s threats of illegal strikes — on top of 11 missed days of school in 2019 — it has become clear that kids are collateral damage for the union’s political and financial leverage. CPS leadership should hold fast in the face of these threats because they are illegal. Parents, meanwhile, need to let CTU know that they refuse to let their kids become victims to CTU’s unlawful tactics.
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