Bill Awaiting Pritzker's Signature Would Allow CPS Principals to Unionize, Advocates Say Move Overdue

Chicago principals could soon have a seat at their own bargaining table.

A bill recently passed by the Illinois Senate is now headed to Governor J.B. Pritzker’s desk.

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The bill would allow Chicago Public Schools principals and vice principals to unionize, but not strike.

Troy LaRaviere, writer of the bill and president of the Chicago Principals & Administrators Association said that bargaining rights were a “key” tool principals needed in order to make their voices heard.

“The authority that they [CPS] have stays the same,” LaRaviere said. “We made that very explicit in the bill … . Chicago principals are the only principals in America that have two bosses that are sometimes opposed to one another that can both fire them. That the Local School Council gives them a contract and not renew their contract, while the CEO can fire them. So you’re in a no-man’s land. We’re the only folks where we sometimes want to side with our Local School Councils, but we’re afraid of what management is going to do if you stand with your LSC.”

Robert Bruno, professor and director of the labor education program at University of Illinois’ School of Labor and Employment Relations, said this bill could help clarify the role of the principal, as unionization has been proposed for decades.

“The argument has been made here in Illinois that the principal should be treated almost as an equivalent to a superintendent who’s making district-wide policy … . Historically there have been debates about who’s a manager, who’s a supervisor … but frankly, if you’re not actually setting policy district-wide, if you’re not responsible for being at the bargaining table with your teachers and other unions, frankly you’re exposed to the same kind of wage issues, working condition issues in terms of work.”

School administrators in several states, including New York, California, New Hampshire and Connecticut, already have collective bargaining rights.

“Really Chicago is behind the curve,” Bruno said. “You look at other big cities across the country … . They’ve had bargaining rights for over a decade. I think the law is catching up and properly defining the principal in a school setting.”

CPS initially opposed this bill, then became neutral.

“Chicago Public Schools remains committed to collaborating with our school leaders as they meet the needs of students, families, teachers and staff,” CPS said in a statement. “The district will also collaborate with administrators under House Bill 5107, a process exclusively designed for Chicago Public Schools, as additional district employees become eligible for possible unionization. We support statewide implementation of this legislation as the tenets hold true for all school districts.”

“Chicago Tonight” also invited opponents of this bill, but they denied the request to participate.

Matt Masterson contributed to this report.

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