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Pritzker signs bill boosting CTU bargaining rights

Crain's Chicago Business

Monday, April 5, 2021  |  Column  |  Greg Hinz

Chicago--Schools (18)

The governor's move lengthens the list of topics the union can bargain over—and loosens limits on strikes.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker today signed legislation boosting the subjects over which the Chicago Teachers Union can bargain—and potentially strike—siding against Mayor Lori Lightfoot in the first of a series of key labor bills coming to his desk.

The governor approved a bill passed last year that requires Chicago Public Schools to bargain with the union on subjects including class sizes, outsourcing, non-teaching staff positions and more.

A separate bill also signed by Pritzker allows, but does not mandate, bargaining over the length of the school day and year. Lightfoot backed that bill.

CTU lost mandatory-bargaining rights on those issues under a 1995 law enacted by Springfield Republicans but embraced by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley. Pritzker’s action largely reverses that measure, potentially opening the door to more strikes if a negotiated settlement on the expanded list of mandatory-bargaining subjects cannot be reached.

“The governor ran for office on a promise to protect collective-bargaining rights and he believes all teachers should have the right to collectively bargain for fair contracts,” his office said in a statement.

CTU, which has argued it deserves the same rights as teachers’ unions in other parts of state, promptly proclaimed its victory.

"Repeal of the despised 1995 Amendatory Act gutting bargaining rights for CPS unions at last eliminates restrictions on CTU's ability to advocate for students and families,” the union said in a statement.

“Those who supported this legislation understand that workers' rights are human rights," the statement continued. “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.”

Despite the 1995 law, CPS had to some degree bargained on all of that. But the new law clearly will boost the union’s leverage, something bill opponents said risks undoing the educational gains CPS has made in recent years.

Pritzker took no action on another bill, a measure which would boost pensions for some firefighters, a move that would cost the city an estimated $30 million a year. A decision on that legislation is expected next week, with Pritzker also expected to sign it despite even more intense opposition from Lightfoot.

Lightfoot’s office had no immediate comment today.

Also potentially headed to Pritzker’s desk later is another bill still pending in the Legislature to also boost pensions for some Chicago police. It was recently introduced by Sen. Rob Martwick, D-Chicago, who was the chief sponsor of the firefighters bill.Lawmakers also are considering another measure strongly backed by CTU to elect members of the Chicago Board of Education, stripping that power from the mayor. Insiders say Lightfoot is expected soon to unveil a compromise bill that would call for a hybrid system with some members elected and others appointed.