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By: Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner

What gives the Chicago Teachers Union the power to strike – or threaten to strike – every time they don’t like a new contract proposal? How can the union maintain such a combative stance and get away with it? How can they strand Chicago families and children – the very people they are supposed to serve – at a whim?

One of the answers lies in the state’s collective bargaining rules. They are among the most anti-taxpayer labor laws in the country. Take strikes, for example. Illinois is the only state among its neighbors that enshrines teacher strikes in its collective bargaining laws. In contrast, strikes are illegal in Wisconsin, Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky and Iowa.

In fact, Illinois is one of just 12 states nationally where teacher strikes are legal, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Strikes in the other 38 states are illegal, either explicitly or because collective bargaining is outlawed to begin with.

If the CTU strikes again this month, as they are currently threatening, it will be the third time in seven years the union has struck over contract negotiations. 

In 2012, the CTU struck for one week over a contract dispute with then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Ditto in 2016, when the union held a one-day walkout. 

Teacher strikes, or the threat of them, have become a standard operating procedure for the Chicago Teachers Union when bargaining new labor contracts. 

Illinois’ development of its anti-taxpayer labor laws began in 1967. That’s when state and local governments were permitted to collectively bargain with the unions. Then in 1973, new laws forced the state to bargain with state workers: “can bargain” became “must bargain.” 

Compulsory bargaining was eventually extended to teachers and municipal workers in 1984 and teachers received explicit legal protections for strikes at the same time.

Illinois is now the only state among its neighbors that allows teacher strikes.

Illinois’ collective bargaining laws extreme

Some states in the country are at the other end of the bargaining spectrum from Illinois. Not only are strikes illegal in those states, they outlaw collective bargaining altogether. There, power lies in the hands of taxpayers.

Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia all prevent collective bargaining. Virginia, for example, codifies its prohibition against collective bargaining in state statute. 

In other states that do allow bargaining, varying degrees of union vs. taxpayer power exist. In some states, collective bargaining is optional. In others, governments are only required to “meet and confer with unions,” but the governments have no compulsion to bargain.

And in yet other states, bargaining is compulsory and contract disputes can go to mediation, arbitration or strikes. Those are the states that preference unions over taxpayers the most. And that’s where Illinois lies.

Illinois’ teachers unions can strike, while its police and fire unions can force arbitration when they don’t like their contract offers. That puts Illinois at the far opposite extreme of states like Virginia.

Chicago and the CTU

The CTU continues to flaunt the strike powers the state’s bargaining laws grant it, ignoring the city’s collapsing finances, burgeoning pension debts and shrinking population.

When the CTU struck against Emanuel in 2012, the school district was already looking at multi-year billion dollar deficits and an official $8 billion pension shortfall. While Emanuel tried to fight off the union demands, he eventually caved and doled out raises that the district and residents could not afford. That eventually led to teacher pink sheets, school closings and even bigger pension shortfalls. Today, the district’s official pension shortfall exceeds $11 billion.

Now the CTU is at it again, despite the fact that Mayor Lori Lightfoot has already gone to Gov. J.B. Pritzker to ask for a state takeover of city pensions. Never mind that both the city and the school district are already junk rated by Moodys. Or that the district has shrunk by 75,000 students since 2000, a loss of more than 15 percent in the student base. Or that Chicagoans are already on the hook for a collective $150 billion in overlapping government retirement debts. That’s the equivalent of $145,000 for each and every Chicago household – an impossible amount.

If Chicago is ever going to prioritize its children, an overwhelming majority of them lower income and minorities, the state will have to dramatically roll back its collective bargaining laws. Otherwise, expect the CTU to continue its militant ways over the people and children of Chicago.

Read more about the contract fight between Lightfoot and the CTU:


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Mariah De La Fuente

This is such a biased article. Teachers went on strike because the city (and state) is not prioritizing the learning conditions and well-being of students.

Poor Taxpayer

Get a U Haul and get out of Illinois. Solve the problem for good. Raise your quality of life.
Much better schools almost everywhere you go to. The Greed of cops, teachers and firemen has destroyed Illinois for good. Toast a goner, DOA. Best choice of my life was to leave Illinois. Now have great weather and low, low taxes. Illinois Suxs.


The Chicago teachers cause problems throughout the State as their salary hikes demand more state funding that could be much better used in other good performing districts within the State. The District I am in got pennies compared to what Chicago got last school funding changes meaning we have higher property taxes so the State can throw more money to the Chicago mess. Every taxpayer in the State has their hat, or should I say wallet in the ring one this one.

Peter Harris

Hey Ted, can’t answer the question?

Using your flunkies and false names to respond?
By the way, I live in Australia, which has the best socialised healthcare in the world, and other taxpayer-funded infrastructure.

And also, we have not had a recession for 28 years.

EX-IL Resident

spoken like the true Taker that you are Pete . Someone pays for that Pete and it ain’t you!!!! You are complete Failure….deal with that tool . easy to spend other peoples money right Pete ???

Throw another shrimp on the barbie right Pete ?? Just not one you paid for

Peter Harris

Just the inane and asinine answer I’ve come expect from the far-right troglodytes. Can’t answer the question?
Too complex for you?

EX-IL Resident

Not complex at all Pete > There is no more money in IL to pay for your BS ponzi scams. How’s that for simplicity mate

Peter Harris


EX-IL Resident

You obviously don’t own a damn thing in IL….if you did you wouldn’t be asking for examples . Cheers Mate

Peter Harris

Nuff nuff… examples of your “ponzi scheme” accusation

EX-IL Resident

multi-million $dollar pension pay outs for single digit pay-ins seems ponzi to me. All guaranteed by IL Courts that are themselves on the same scam. 3-4% COLA step-ups in perpetuity seems very Ponzi to me. But maybe your right……maybe these all get paid by the taxpayers and their homes that are getting ATM’d out their front doors from taxes and fees . No matter I am done with you . You are not a stakeholder if you were you would have empathy for people that pay for these asinine pensions .

Peter Harris

Incoherent gibberish…

EX-IL Resident

sure it is when you pay nothing Fuck off now

Peter Harris

Did I trigger your limbic system?


Prior to 2010 Tier 1 retirees could spike the sky with vacation days/sick days/personal days/etc some had many years of accrued benefits put into pensions. After 2010 Tier 2 was created with different rules and spiking limits of 6% with penalties attached but many exceeded that and paid the penalties with taxpayers money. According to Forbes 2% out of 9% contribution is diverted to Tier 1 retirees. Returns after 2010 were very meager making 0.7% some years yet 3% compounding continues for Tier 1 and add in 7-8% yearly return assumptions plus add in management fees. Ponzi scheme needs new… Read more »


Addendum- 2% of the 9% for Tier 2 is diverted to Tier 1. Sorry needed to clarify!

Bob Out Of Here

Try looking at the CAFR’s or bond offerings. Why is someone halfway around the globe butting in? You don’t live in Chicago nor have you ever. I’m an ex pat hoping for a quick end via bankruptcy so I can move back.


It’s just attempted misdirection on Peter’s part. Either he’s a teacher with a personal stake in all this or he’s one of those paid commenters the left uses to sway the easily led. (IOW, he’s barking up the wrong tree posting to WP.)

Peter is a troll. Best to ignore him or we just just fill the comment section with pointless venom instead of the policy discussion we want.

Peter Harris

It’s funny, but the trolls who actually accuse other people are being a troll, have no argument themselves.
I’ve made my point clear, here’s some further reading for you… troll.

“The fight for the right to high-quality public education is not possible without a frontal assault on the entrenched wealth of the corporate and financial elite.”


“The fight for the right to high-quality public education ”
“It’s funny,” in Illinois

There I fixed your post for ya Pete


Hmmm…why would someone from Australia be interested in Illinois’ teacher issues unless Capitol Fax has moved there to avoid Illinois’ taxes.

Peter Harris

This Ted, from your bloated bio…

“The Illinois Policy Institute is a nonpartisan research organization dedicated to supporting free market principles and liberty-based public policy initiatives for a better Illinois.”

So tell us Ted, where has your zero government regulation and extreme laissez-faire free market principled economy worked in the world?

Joe Hillstrom

You are starting from a false premise. But please enlighten us as to whether you would prefer to pontificate in the Soviet Union, Venezuela. China or Cuba. And have you stopped beating your wife?

Wow. First I learned from these comments that Ted is paid and now that he believes in zero government and extreme laissez-faire. He sure had me tricked.

EX-IL Resident

Pete – Your Pension is toast . No amount of your BS is going to change that FACT. You teaching children is scary as fuck


H. Emily

CTU teachers and CPS staff share the same working conditions as their students, meaning their demands are to better classroom environments. This is so obvious on its face that only a bad faith debater being paid to spread conservative lies would fail to get it.


Or it could be that we recognize that their demands will never be satisfied and the city can’t afford what they’re asking.

Joe Hillstrom

We’re on to virtue signaling and name calling. Try something else.

Lots of other folks are living in those same conditions, Emily, and they didn’t appoint the CTU to bargain for them about everything CTU is focused on. As a number of articles have described, this is about far more than Chicago teachers and students — it’s about an extremist agenda on both national and local policy issues. See for example the new article just posted from the left’s In These Times. . Fossil fuels, Wall Street, crime, the police training center, tax policy and much more are all part of “bargaining for the common good,” as it’s being called.… Read more »

What are the lies and who is getting paid?


If your an fop cop, up next to negotiate new contract (your union can’t strike and gets no love in press) are you chearing on your fellow union ctu comrades for socken it to city & tax payers? Or are you scarred there wount be anything left for you and zero public appetite for more taxes?

NB, as you said, the police union can’t strike, but their conflict resolution is via arbitration. There are arguments that forced arbitration might be more beneficial to the unions than striking. With an arbitrator, the union avoids a strike in public and an outside, independent arbitrator (an unelected official) comes in to decide pay, benefits, etc. You know how that ends.

Often times, city officials know they’ll lose in arbitration so they just roll over early.

All that said, expect the police and fire unions to demand rich benefits.


Look around. Every American institution is busy destroying itself from within. The teachers (their administration, more accurately) are destroying whatever value existed in the public monopoly (tax-paid) education of children. The “News” has completely jettisoned any pretense of impartiality to the point of creating fiction and running it as fact. Heck, the federal government can’t even defend the borders of the USA anymore, so mired in bitterness and bickering are its employees and managers. I’ve long said that public (tax-supported) monopolies are the best at obeying the Iron Law of Monopoly: Over time they take in more and more resources… Read more »


The only reasons strikes work is because management is weak, meaning the mayor. She has power but refuses to use it to protect taxpayors. She has the math on her side and can prove the service provided is subpar even though the taxpayors already pay a premium price. She is just incompetent, like her predecessors.

Peter Harris

Just another hate piece and incoherent attack on unions.
The Antihumanitarians who wrote this trash, wish we go back to the Victorian era, where workers work in dirty and dangerous conditions for little pay.

Joe Hillstrom

Perhaps you are a teacher, although I doubt from your reasoning or rhetoric you ever went to college. You are, however, following the party and union lines that if you lack an answer or even a counter-argument, you respond with vitriol and name-calling. Perhaps some Chicago teachers work in dirty and dangerous conditions, but that is not the fault of regular writers and readers on this website. Chicago and its school system have been run by Democrats and Socialists for the last half-century and whatever dangers inhere in teachers’ jobs may be laid at the feet of those people and… Read more »

Peter Harris

Just the sort of reply, we have come to expect from the limbic system driven troglodytes on the far-right.
All you have are emotional rants, that don’t square with a reality.
I’m not a teacher for a start….
But I do understand the dog whistling from the nuff nuffs that write on this website.

Charlotte Aines

My name is Peter Harris and I am extremely excited to introduce myself to all of the 7th & 8th grade parents at Wadsworth STEM school. I was born on the south side of Chicago and attended High School. From there I traveled ten miles south to the University of Illinois and received a degree in Statistics and Operations Research, It is pleasure to meet you I look forward to having a great 2019-2020.

7th/8th Grade Math Teacher

A math teacher that doesn’t understand arithmetic. Sad!


“I was born on the south side of Chicago and attended High School.”

I certainly hope so.


You should have taken a course in psychology and bought a mirror. Your rant (yes, yours is the rant) is pure projection. Sad, so sad…

H. Emily

You know who didn’t finish college? Your buddy John Kass.


Now you’re education shaming? Really gonna stoop that low?


It’s the progressive utopia of their own making. No one to blame but themselves.

Tom Paine's Ghost

You must be a CTU stooge. Too bad because you clearly are incompetent judging by your idiotic rant. You have no business teaching anyone anything. There is no way to equate Victorian era labor conditions with the posh and luxurious ‘work’ and avalanche of pay recieved by the worthless members of CTU. I look forward to stepping over you in the street after CTU is busted. I’ll hand out baggies of Gravy Train to you and your fellow unemployed thieves. Good riddance.

Peter Harris

Idiotic rant?
Me? Oh the hypocrisy…

Why is it that critics here never have a substantive or empirical response? Seems to be a pattern with today’s far left.

Peter Harris

“Seems to be a pattern with today’s far left.”

Ha ha ha ha…

Here you are, providing no empirical evidence yourself.

Are you a stupid American who doesn’t understand dog whistling?


“Back to the past” generalization: check
Insults: check
Dog whistle conspiracy: check

Will you bring out the white supremacist accusations next, Peter? This is the problem with “progressive” types: in the absence of substantive arguments, they always revert to the script.

Peter Harris

“…white supremacist accusations…”

Funny, you’ve raised it… scared?

And of course, the usual inane and immature nonsense from the far-right dropkicks.


Ah, more insults. Time to prove us wrong, Peter. In your own words, tell us your solution to the pension mess.

After all, if we’re just “antihumanitrian” “nuff nuffs” and “dropkicks”, your argument must therefore be far superior to ours. So let’s hear it.

Peter Harris

Not insults, they’re actually accurate descriptions.

And who mentioned white supremacists?

Don’t you have the balls to put your name to your posts?

Another observation… those on the far right are scaredy cats and cowards.

Peter Harris

OK, this is nothing about the “pension mess” as you call it.
This is just an excuse to rant about working class people – an ideological political talking point – within a bigger context of far-right anti humanitarian beliefs.


You come to this site and find that it’s dedicated to fiscal matters pertaining to the state of Illinois. You see a story critical of unions and get triggered. And since it appears that fiduciary matters aren’t your strong suit, you simply attack the authors and readers because-in your mind-the only reason somebody would have to be anti-union must be some overarching hatred of humanity.

‘Tis a very simplistic worldview which assigns a black and white motivation to everything.

Joe Hillstrom

Peter is a caricature of my view [perhaps others’ views?] of public employees and their supporters. The Wizard lives!

I think he is putting us all on. We should ignore him but he is irresistible. A lot like D. Trump.

He’s probably a reporter for Snopes. Put some saltpeter in his mashed potatoes.


C’mon, dude, aren’t we “literally Hitler” yet? (These guys are an endless belly-laugh when reading their comments.)


Peter Harris – one of the most striking features of Wirepoints is that they consistently and without question bring more data to the table than any other similar publication. Now, I can see some disagreeing with Mark and Ted, but in no way would that criticism be based on a lack of empiricism. One of the most humorous anecdotes I have read is on Capital Fax’s comment board, in response to Wirepoints work, is that math is for Republicans! I never learned that in my calculus class! In any event, it would be helpful to know just what the City… Read more »


Would Peter, the consummate humanitarian, be willing to give up a portion of his 7% pension pick up to fund salaries for additional nurses and social workers?

Platinum Goose

Why should Peter have to sacrifice anything, the city has plenty of money, there’s TIF money, they can do a LaSalle Street tax, employee head tax, tax the rich people, they’ll have casino tax, marijuana tax. It’s for the kids, ALL that money should go to the teachers. All the other city employees are already paid well enough. City government has no other functions that are as important as teaching our kids.

Peter Harris

Happy to…


Peter – you didn’t answer my reasonable questions. And a position which talks about an abstract full frontal attack on wealth doesnt answer the questions, either. What should the City do, and if what they should do causes an outside budget deficit even greater than exists now, how can the deficit be closed? Note that tax increases are not exogenous to production, and even more so, to out migration. Numbers matter, even in a political system designed to your liking. And please, refrain from responding with thr right wing limbic system narrative. I am from Illinois, from poverty, a state… Read more »


So, are Illinois and California only two states where teachers can strike and benifits are contitutionally be NOT deminished? what better place than chicago, if your a sharkey or gates to work your $$hustle$$?


Also, lightfoot could challage threatened strike as illegal if ctu strikes over anything other than pay and benifits? So, supposedly tax payers have some limited protections

NB, unfortunately, the law doesn’t really work. What the union is doing is refusing to agree to the pay portion of the negotiation so they can keep all the other demands going. If they eventually strike, legally it will be because they haven’t agreed to the compensation proposals by the district. But in reality, they’ll be striking over all the other demands. That’s the trick…the union won’t agree to the the compensation offer as long all the district doesn’t meet all the other union demands.


Yup, i understand. But as horrible as rahm was, didnt he at least try and use that law limiting what teachers could strike over during 2012 strike? Lightfoots not even trying that.

H. Emily

If you think it’s such a great hustle, why don’t you try it?


Both sharkey & gates did union organizing gigs in other states before to moven on to the mother load–chicago. Tought for a couple years, then moved on to ctu management

Tom Paine's Ghost

Of course Illinois Strike Laws prioritize the teachers over the children. This is Illinois. Every unit of government in Illinois exists as an employment program for politically favored public union goons prioritized over the taxpaying citizens of the state. Bankruptcy now. Eliminate all Illinois public sector unions.Make collective bargaining for public sector unions illegal. Just like in Wisconsin.


So, what’s really new here? Isn’t that what every other strike by every other work group has always done–prioritize the workers’ demands over the needs of the end consumer-users of their services?

Platinum Goose

Nothing new here, just another public service union taking advantage of taxpayers. GM is on strike I have a choice to buy a Ford or Dodge or something else. If teachers go on strike then my choice is to enroll my kids in a private school. Not really fair of me to have to pay for private school when a good chunk of my taxes support the public schools, unless of course they want to offer vouchers. So looking at it this way the CTU is really not “every other work group”. The day of reckoning for the public sector… Read more »


Let the teachers strike. The overpaid, under worked, over benefited spoiled teachers need a year off. They already receive 3 months a year off for a full salary. Additionally, they get about a million off days for this and that. Parents of the children should revolt.