Labor board denies teachers union’s attempt to halt return to CPS schools

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey speaks prior to an August protest outside City Hall. | Getty

The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board on Thursday ruled in a split 2-1 vote against granting an injunction against the scheduled Jan. 4 return date for some staff. A labor court Thursday denied the Chicago Teachers Union’s attempt to delay Chicago Public Schools’ planned January reopening, a setback for the union that was looking to fully bargain with the district over the return to schools for the first time during the pandemic.
The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board ruled in a split 2-1 vote against allowing the CTU to proceed with its request for a preliminary injunction to halt the scheduled Jan. 4 return date for preschool and special education cluster program staff, a week before their students.
If the vote had passed, the board would have asked Illinois’ attorney general to immediately go to court seeking an injunction for the CTU. The union will instead have to go to trial if it wants to continue its case, which might not be resolved before the early January return.
“We will request that the IELRB set a trial date for next week and for a decision to issue the first week of [January],” the CTU said in a statement after the ruling. “Without that timeline, CPS could be allowed to put people in danger with its unilateral plan that likely will end up being declared illegal after the fact.
“In such case, all options will be on the table for our union to enforce our rights and protect the health, safety, and livelihoods of students, educators and all families.”
CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said in a statement that “the district commends the IELRB for ruling in favor of the more than 77,000 CPS students whose families have asked to return to schools..”
“It’s time for the CTU to put students first and be supportive partners in the effort to safely reopen classrooms for the families who need us now more than ever,” Bolton said.
The union is still unlikely to be deterred in its attempt to pause the district’s reopening until it’s satisfied schools are safe for its members and could look at options including a potential work stoppage in the coming weeks.
The CTU argued in its case that the district violated labor law by not bargaining with the union in good faith as it looked to reopen schools, instead acting unilaterally in all its decisions. The union requested an injunction to delay reopening plans until the two sides bargained to completion.
IELRB general counsel Ellen Strizak said in her recommendation to the board that it wasn’t clear the CTU’s 43 meetings with CPS since June have constituted bargaining sessions — meaning it’s unclear that CPS negotiated in bad faith — or that the reopening of schools during a pandemic is a mandatory subject of bargaining in the union’s collective bargaining agreement. She said the union’s case should be denied.
Board member Lynne Sered disagreed, arguing health and safety in the workplace are mandatory subjects of bargaining and that CPS should be forced to negotiate with the union to ensure a safe workplace. Sered was overruled by the other two board members.
This is the second time in as many months that the CTU’s request for injunctive relief has ended in disappointment. The IELRB in November declined to issue a ruling because CPS at that time hadn’t set a return date, meaning there was nothing from which to provide injunctive relief. The board indicated it would be willing to hear the case again when CPS announced a date — which has since happened.
The CTU’s remaining option is to decide whether to take some sort of labor action such as a strike — a possibility the union has discussed internally. If the union decides to go that route, a potential strike authorization vote could come in the next few weeks.
“Our union will have to have an internal discussion about what to do next if we can’t reach agreements on how to make our schools safe for everyone,” Sharkey told the school board Wednesday. “When we have those discussions, all options are going to be on the table.”
The union’s disputes with CPS are “going to make our union campaign in a way which is going to have very real consequences in this whole city,” he said.

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