After Chicago Teachers 1 Day Strike, City Gov’t Fires Back

(Photo:  Christian K. Lee, AP)

(Photo: Christian K. Lee, AP)

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) filed a charge against the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) with a state labor board over a one-day strike that occurred last Friday. The CPS maintains that the walkout staged by the union was illegal because it did not follow state law, which sets the rules for teacher strikes.

On Friday, the Chicago Teachers Union picketed schools, held rallies at City Hall, the Cook County Jail, and Chicago State University. The union staged a strike because it accuses the district of engaging in unfair labor practices that will jeopardize pensions and pay raises guaranteed in the last contract, which expired last June. Despite the surefire controversy of the walkout, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, joined in on the some of the events, reports Casey Quinlan of Think Progress.

However, according to Juan Perez Jr. of the Los Angeles Times, Illinois state law requires that a final phase of contract negotiations called “fact-finding” must be completed before Chicago teachers can legally declare a strike. That process will not be completed until mid-May.

For its part, the union is arguing for the legitimacy of the strike on a legal technicality. “The union’s view is that it’s not striking over the contract, but instead striking over an unfair labor practice … it need not fulfill all those statutory requirements for a strike before engaging in an unfair labor practice strike,” the union’s attorney, Robert Block, said.

Nonetheless, the union’s actions have invited fierce criticism and blowback. CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said that the Chicago district is filing charges as a “permanent, preemptive injunction” against similar actions in the future. Claypool wants to make sure that “CTU leadership can’t, at their own whim, say ‘We’re going tossup down the schools’ without following the law.”

During the walkout, three teachers were arrested and one person was ticketed by local authorities. Inflammatory comments hoping to stoke tensions between police officers and teachers were made by an activist support the striking union. Police-support groups now calling on the union to denounce those remarks. Thus, another consequence of the strike has been the escalation of tensions between two embattled Chicago institutions, teachers unions and the police.

The Chicago Teachers Union is demanding that lawmakers reduce the influence of standardized testing, give teachers more autonomy on grading policies, help ensure smaller class sizes, and provide more for school nurses and librarians. The CTU claims it has already sacrificed enough assisting the city, pointing to the fact that teachers voluntarily had their wages reduced in 2011.

The union previously rejected an offer made in February by the Board of Education, stating that that agreement failed to “address the difficult conditions in the schools, the lack of services to our needed students or address the long-term fiscal crisis that threatens to gut public education in the city.” The recent strike will assure the protracted and tense nature of the ongoing negotiations. It is unclear what effect the charges filed by the CPS will have on negotiations.