CHICAGO, Dec. 17, 2020—Today the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB), on a split 2-1 vote, denied the Union’s request to seek a preliminary injunction against CPS’ unilaterally developed plan to resume in-person learning on Jan. 4.
The two-member majority of the IELRB, Lara Shayne and Gilbert O’Brien, did so on the narrow grounds that they believe a full evidentiary trial is needed to determine whether CPS is obligated under a provision of state law that only applies to Chicago Public Schools — Section 4.5 of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act — to bargain with the CTU about its decision to resume in-person learning during the pandemic.
The trial on the complaint the IELRB has issued against CPS over its refusal to bargain is currently scheduled before an administrative law judge on January 26. The CTU is seeking to have that trial date moved up to next week, before CPS’ mandatory return date for pre-kindergarten and special education cluster students, who CPS is seeking to force back into unsafe buildings on Jan. 4.
The Union expects CPS to oppose an expedited hearing. Without that ruling by Jan. 4, CPS could be allowed to put people in danger with its unilateral plan, even as the district plan could be declared illegal after the fact — making the remedy for the legal violation meaningless.
“In that case, all options will be on the table for the CTU to enforce our rights and protect the health, safety, and livelihoods of students, educators and their families,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said.
The Union is also convening its elected executive board early next week to lay out next steps in the Union’s campaign to return to buildings only when CPS has bargained to consensus on critical safety issues.
“Our case at trial is rock solid, and we’re not wavering from our commitment to place safety, equity and trust at the heart of any agreement to return to our school communities,” Sharkey said.
The Acting Chair of the IELRB, Lynne Sered, agreed with the CTU in today’s IELRB hearing, saying:
“Health and safety is a mandatory subject of bargaining. It may not be disregarded by Section 4.5. It is undisputed that the Chicago Board of Education has announced a date certain to bring children and teachers back without bargaining that decision with the CTU. Further, we are literally dealing with life and death, which amounts to irreparable harm. I would vote to seek preliminary injunctive relief under section 16(d) of the Act.”
Section 4.5 of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act singles out the CTU alone as being barred from bargaining most issues with management unless management also agrees to bargain. CPS has used the despised provision as an excuse for months to refuse to bargain safety issues with the CTU, while the Union has made the case that health and safety is a subject of mandatory bargaining, as Sered argued in today’s hearing.
The legal issue to be decided at trial is whether the decision to resume in-person learning is a question of “places of instruction” — a permissive subject of bargaining under section 4.5 — or a matter of health and safety, which is a mandatory subject of bargaining under the IELRA.
While CPS has said school buildings are safe, the district moved today to close mobile classrooms at one school this week because of ventilation issues. That move comes as the district continues to refuse to actually test school ventilation systems, many of which are generations old, for their ability to mitigate the spread of the virus in classrooms.