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.
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:
- Here is the list of benefits Mayor Lightfoot is offering to the teachers’ union and why it’s terrible for Chicagoans
- Is Lori Lightfoot ready for a potential Chicago teachers strike?
- How Springfield Should Authorize Lightfoot To Negotiate With the CTU (But Won’t)
- Chicago’s Lightfoot demands a state taxpayer bailout, then offers CTU a 5-year contract, 14% raise?
- Why Chicago’s Lightfoot should push for a pension amendment, not tax hikes