Illinois Senate Votes To Expand Teachers' Union Rights

By Braden Campbell
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Law360 (January 11, 2021, 7:31 PM EST) -- The Illinois Senate voted Monday to restore the rights of Chicago teachers and staff to negotiate the terms of their workdays, complicating an ongoing fight between the Chicago Teachers Union and the city over reopening schools during the COVID-19 crisis.

H.B. 2275 would repeal a 1995 provision of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act putting several subjects off-limits to teachers and school staff in cities with 500,000 residents or more, including staffing and scheduling. The Senate's 38-16 vote sends the measure to Gov. J.B Pritzker's desk nearly two years after it passed the Illinois House of Representatives.

The American Federation of Teachers called the vote "a huge victory for educators fighting for stronger public schools" Monday.

"You are a Gov's signature away from getting back your bargaining rights which were taken from you in 1995," AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a tweet congratulating the Chicago Teachers Union, which fought for the measure. "This will hugely help negotiate a safe school reopening plan."

Monday's vote came on the first day of in-person classes for pre-K and special-needs students since March, when the city shut down schools due to concerns about COVID-19 transmission. Students in kindergarten through eighth grade are set to return to schools Feb. 1 under the city's plan, while high school students will continue remote learning indefinitely.

The union has opposed Chicago Public Schools' reopening plans dating back to the summer, when the district proposed separating students into cohorts and sending them into schools on alternating schedules. The district canceled those plans in August amid pressure from the union and set its current course in November. CPS has denied the union's demands to bargain over the plan, citing the provision H.B. 2275 would repeal.

IELRA Section 4.5 limits the subjects CPS must negotiate with teacher and staff unions, giving the district unilateral power to outsource bargaining unit work to third parties, lay workers off, set class schedules and more.

The union has insisted that school reopening is a negotiable health and safety issue under current law, and has sued for an Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board order blocking the school from implementing its plans. Repealing Section 4.5 would take away "any shred of doubt" that the union can demand a say, Chicago Teachers Union deputy general counsel Thad Goodchild told Law360 on Monday.

"It is even clearer than it already was that it's something they're required in good faith to bargain with us about," he said.

Goodchild added the union is optimistic that Pritzker will sign the measure, which he has publicly supported. A representative for the governor did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A CPS representative directed an inquiry to the city, which also did not immediately respond.

--Additional reporting by Max Kutner. Editing by Abbie Sarfo.

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