Illinois Senate Approves Bill That Could Expand Bargaining Rights For Chicago Teachers

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

A victory for the Chicago Teachers Union in Springfield on Monday could mark a change in the way the union is able to bargain with Chicago Public Schools over plans to reopen schools and other issues.

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The Illinois Senate on Monday passed HB 2275 on a 38-16 vote. That bill, which now heads to Gov. J.B. Pritzker for approval, would repeal Section 4.5 of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act, which has limited the CTU’s bargaining power since 1995.

State Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, who sponsored the bill in the senate, said the legislation would “essentially level the playing field on collective bargaining” by giving Chicago teachers the same rights that teachers already have in every other school district statewide.

“I’ve been in the Senate for exactly eight years now, I have lost count of the number of times I’ve heard individuals from the other side of the aisle stand up and say that they’d like to see the Chicago Public Schools treated like every other school district in the state,” he said. “Well guess what? Here’s a chance to do that.”

The Senate vote came on the same day some CPS students returned to schools for the first time since last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pritzker on Monday afternoon said he’ll “take a serious look” at the final version of the legislation, and has “favored passage of that bill” since before he was elected.

Section 4.5 has placed “unacceptable limitations” on CTU’s ability to negotiate over issues including staffing levels, time and location of work, and health and safety standards, according to some labor officials.

Last week, Mayor Lori Lightfoot sent a letter to state senators opposing the proposed changes, telling them if that section of the law were pulled back, it “would impair our efforts to reopen Chicago Public Schools and jeopardize our fiscal and educational gains.”

“Now is not the time to change the rules of engagement,” Lightfoot wrote in the letter. “CPS and CTU agreed on a 5-year contract in 2019. It would be unprecedented for the General Assembly to make substantial changes to the bargaining relationship during the terms of this agreement. Moreover, to repeal 4.5 at this sensitive moment injects uncertainty into reopening negotiations when we can least afford it.”

But on Monday, a spokesperson for Lightfoot said that if language were added to the bill to ensure that it goes into effect in 2024, when the CTU’s current contract expires, and an existing provision regarding the length of the school day and school year is preserved, then the mayor would “strongly endorse the repeal of Section 4.5 and the restoration of collective bargaining rights.”

A spokesperson for CPS did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon.

The union has filed complaints of unfair labor practices by CPS leading up to the return to in-person learning. But in December, the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board rejected a request by the CTU for an injunction preventing the reopening of schools and cited Section 4.5 as part of the reason for doing so.

In a statement Monday, the CTU said the passage of HB 2275 “represents the restoration of our ability to bargain for real equity for our working class students and students of color.”

“We look forward to the Governor’s signature on this bill, and urge the State Legislature to move swiftly to take up legislation granting Chicagoans the right that residents in every other school district in the state possess: the right to elect their school board members,” the union said.

Contact Matt Masterson: @ByMattMasterson | [email protected] | (773) 509-5431

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