Defying Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill Friday restoring the ability of the Chicago Teachers Union to bargain with the city over a wide range of issues, including class size, layoffs and the duration of the school year.
Pritzker had until Sunday to take action on HB 2275, which the Illinois Senate passed on a 38-16 vote in January after intense lobbying from both sides.
The measure repeals Section 4.5 of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act, which has restricted the CTU’s bargaining power since 1995, when state lawmakers gave then-Mayor Richard M. Daley control of the school district after several long strikes.
The change takes effect immediately, union leaders said, and could drastically change the scope of ongoing negotiations between the city and the union over how and whether high school students will be able to return to in-person class before the end of the academic year.
“With the signing of this bill, we now at last bargain from a level playing field — with the ability to at last reject the chronic classroom overcrowding, incompetent and wasteful third party contracting, and the desperate shortage of school nurses, social workers, counselors and other chronic staffing needs that have plagued our schools for years,” Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said.
Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said the last conversation she had with former union President Karen Lewis before she died in early February was about the restoration of the union’s bargaining rights.
“I am emotional about this,” Davis Gates told WTTW News. “It is bittersweet. Karen should be here. This is her legacy.”
Before the measure passed the Senate, Lightfoot urged legislators to reject the bill, warning them it could complicate her efforts to reopen schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“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.”
Lightfoot said in January that she would support the restoration of the union’s bargaining rights if it took effect in 2024, after the current teachers union contract expires, and prevents the union from striking because of disputes over the length of the school day and year.
The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board rejected a request by the union in December to block the city’s plan to reopen schools for in-person learning and cited the union’s limited bargaining rights as part of the reason for doing so.
Lightfoot spokesperson Jordan Troy told WTTW News on Friday that the mayor was “largely happy this bill was signed.”
Both Lightfoot and Pritzker campaigned in support of restoring Chicago teachers bargaining rights in 2018 and 2019.
In January, Pritzker said all Illinois teachers unions, including Chicago’s, should be able to bargain on the same issues, including policy and working conditions.