The Chicago Teachers Union won two big victories, as a labor board judge ruled that CPS must bargain with CTU where it had refused and as millions of dollars are being disbursed to sports programs throughout the city.
1. IELRB rules CPS violated state law in unilateral mask policy
Today, following an April trial, an administrative law judge at the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB) issued a decision finding that Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s handpicked CPS leadership team violated state law when it unilaterally lifted the school district’s universal masking policy in March.
Since the onset of the pandemic, you have battled and sacrificed for health and safety protocols to protect students, families, your school communities and yourselves. In the face of bad faith and illegal lockouts by the mayor, we secured successive COVID-19 safety agreements with the district in February 2021 and January 2022 — the latter of which was in effect until August 26, 2022. Those agreements included a requirement that anyone entering a CPS facility wear a mask properly covering their nose and mouth.
Despite this unambiguous contractual commitment, in March of 2022, CPS unilaterally rescinded the mask policy without bargaining with the Union to modify the terms of the safety agreement.
Today’s decision, in some ways, comes as cold comfort, as the backward-looking damage of bad faith and illegal behavior from the mayor and her team cannot be undone. But the decision sets an important precedent that will deter CPS from disregarding its legal and contractual obligations to its employees and their school communities in the future, and aid our union’s ability to seek injunctive relief if CPS ever does so again.
The Union filed an unfair labor practice charge the same day of CPS’ announcement, and requested a preliminary injunction be issued against the district, prohibiting it from implementing the mask-optional policy until CPS met its obligations to bargain with our union over the health and safety protocol changes it sought.
In April, IELRB members denied the request for an injunction on a 3-2 vote. IELRB chair and former CPS attorney Lara Shayne voted with the two Republican appointees on the IELRB, reasoning that there was not “significant likelihood of the Union prevailing on the merits” after a trial.
In his decision following the trial, the administrative law judge held that CPS “did not engage in good faith bargaining prior to moving to a mask-optional policy.” The judge further found that CPS’ revocation of the policy despite the clear terms of the safety agreement was “a repudiation of its duty to bargain,” in violation of state law.
The judge also rejected CPS’ defenses, which were based on the theories advanced by Republican Illinois Attorney General candidate Tom DeVore that the CPS mask policy violated the Illinois Department of Health Act, noting that those arguments have since been overruled by the Illinois appellate courts.
The Union hopes that, at long last, CPS will leave its bad faith ways under Mayor Lightfoot’s leadership behind, and begin to partner with us to provide Chicago’s students with the schools they deserve.
2. Millions are now being allocated to sports programs throughout CPS
Under the agreement between our union and the Chicago Board of Education regarding allocation of the additional sports funds won in our historic 2019 contract campaign, I am happy to share that $5 million is being allocated to elementary school and high school sports programs across the district for the purchase of equipment, uniforms, supplies and transportation.
Chicago Public Schools sent the principals of these schools notice of the allocation this week, and the district informed the Union that the funds have been disbursed to the individual schools. High schools with sports programs have received an additional $19,920, and elementary schools received an additional $13,280 for these purposes.
Everyone in our union should take pride in this moment, and celebrate the hard work and commitment we all put forth in 2019 to secure these resources for our CPS student-athletes. Your advocacy during the strike won an additional $25 million in sports funding across the term of the five-year agreement and created a joint CTU-CPS Sports Committee that is charged with allocating that money to increase coaches’ pay, make it more equitable and provide additional resources for CPS student-athletes.
In addition to providing funding for 336 Chicago public schools with sports programs, the agreement also provides that if any of the $25 million in additional funds that is to be allocated toward coaches, liaisons, athletic directors and athletic trainers goes unspent, the remaining amount will be allocated entirely to schools for equipment, uniforms, supplies and transportation for CPS student-athletes. So there will likely be additional installments coming to schools for this purpose over the next few years.
“After countless hours and numerous meetings, I am beyond thrilled that Chicago Public Schools sports programs, at both the elementary and high school level, will be getting much needed and well deserved funding for equipment, transportation and uniforms,” said our sister Wendy Weingarten, LaSalle II Magnet School teacher and member of the CTU Sports Committee, in a statement today. “This is the start of what we will continue to fight for, as we know our athletes deserve it!”
During the 2019-2020 pandemic school year, CPS withheld $5 million of that funding, claiming it had been swept into general operating funds instead. The rank-and-file CTU Sports Committee sprang into action, and along with CTU staff and leadership, forced the district to provide the unspent $5 million in sports funding from 2019-20 that it claimed was no longer available for sports.
This victory is the result of the fearless organizing of that committee, including the excellent work of its rank-and-file members Weingarten, Linda Peete and Lynn Gerbec. These women, along with CTU staff and officers, did fantastic work on this across several months of negotiations meetings with CPS.
It also underscores how, when we say we are fighting for the schools Chicago’s students deserve, it’s not just lip service. You made real sacrifices during those 15 days in 2019, and the results are real tangible improvements in the resources that our student-athletes have available to them.
The next step is for coaches, athletic directors and elementary school sports liaisons to request a meeting with your principals to start putting together a plan for how your schools will use these funds. Our Agreement provides that schools have to spend these funds only on sports equipment, uniforms, supplies and transportation, and that purchase decisions must be determined by athletic directors and sports liaisons in consultation with the coaches at their schools (i.e., not determined by the principal).
So I encourage you to advocate for the funds to be spent appropriately and equitably. Contact your field rep in the event your schools are not using this money in accordance with the Agreement.