Appellate court decision raises questions on new charter law

Print More

An Illinois Appellate Court decision has cast legal doubt over a hard-fought provision regarding charter union drives in the state’s revamped charter law.

In the decision, the court has sided with the Cambridge Lakes Charter School’s management group, the Northern Kane Educational Corporation, which challenged a union drive by its teachers. Under the ruling, the state’s labor board cannot grant union rights to the school’s teachers because they technically work for a private company that is not subject to the Illinois Education Labor Act.

Exactly how the ruling will affect the Cambridge Lakes union push remains unclear. Muddier yet is how it will impact a contradictory clause in the state’s new charter law.

An Illinois Appellate Court decision has cast legal doubt over a hard-fought provision regarding charter union drives in the state’s revamped charter law.

In the decision, the court has sided with the Cambridge Lakes Charter School’s management group, the Northern Kane Educational Corporation, which challenged a union drive by its teachers. Under the ruling, the state’s labor board cannot grant union rights to the school’s teachers because they technically work for a private company that is not subject to the Illinois Education Labor Act.

Exactly how the ruling will affect the Cambridge Lakes union push remains unclear. Muddier yet is how it will impact a contradictory clause in the state’s new charter law.

A similar case involving Chicago’s Civitas Schools unfolded this summer. The National Labor Relations Board eventually took over union-granting authority from the state’s labor board, forcing teachers to vote in an anonymous election on the formation of a union. Although union backers won that election, they want future bids to go through the state labor board, a simpler process that only requires a majority of teachers to submit “union cards” to show their support for a union.

Concerned with the Civitas case, the state’s teachers unions were able to push through a clause in the new charter law—which takes effect in January—that specifically grants jurisdiction over charter unionization to the state’s education labor board.

But some charter advocates say that clause may not withstand a direct legal challenge, and they now have some evidence in the Cambridge Lakes ruling.

Meanwhile, teachers in Cambridge Lakes face a fork in the legal road. Mitch Roth, general counsel for the Illinois Education Association, says they may appeal to the state Supreme Court or possibly ask the appellate court to reconsider its decision. Another strategy: take the case to the National Labor Relations Board and face an election like the one at Civitas.

Teachers could also wait until the new charter law goes into effect on January 1st and simply resubmit their union cards to the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board. In that case, Northern Kane would have to resubmit its legal challenge.

But Roth says waiting could affect a related unfair labor practice case involving Cambridge Lakes.

Back in Chicago, Civitas teachers are nearing completion on the city’s first charter school union contract.