Bill to curb tenure, strike rights moves forward over teachers’ union objections

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CTU President Karen Lewis speaks at a School Board meeting in October.

[Catalyst file photo by Marc Monaghan]


The House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee on Wednesday approved Senate Bill  7 – a bill to make it easier to dismiss inept teachers and harder for unions to strike – by a vote of 24-0.

Since the bill has not been amended in the House, it would go directly
to Gov. Pat Quinn to sign into law if it is approved on the full House
floor. The Chicago Teachers Union made late objections to the bill last week because of provisions on strike votes and the process of
resolving conflict during contract negotiations, and CTU President Karen
Lewis reiterated the concerns during debate Wednesday.



CTU President Karen Lewis speaks at a School Board meeting in October.

[Catalyst file photo by Marc Monaghan]


The House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee on Wednesday approved Senate Bill  7 – a bill to make it easier to dismiss inept teachers and harder for unions to strike – by a vote of 24-0.

Since the bill has not been amended in the House, it would go directly to Gov. Pat Quinn to sign into law if it is approved on the full House floor. The Chicago Teachers Union made late objections to the bill last week because of provisions on strike votes and the process of resolving conflict during contract negotiations, and CTU President Karen Lewis reiterated the concerns during debate Wednesday.

SB 7 is a product of months of negotiations involving legislators, teachers unions, school management groups, education reform advocates and business leaders. The process began last December and the bill won praise and support from all parties when the Senate passed it unanimously last month. The bill runs 110 pages. 

The measure establishes performance and relevant experience as the key factors in assigning teachers to fill vacancies, and in deciding who will be let go when layoffs are required.

In all cases, seniority would be a factor only as a tie-breaker. If two teachers with similar performance ratings and experience are candidates for a position, seniority would be considered in the final decision.

Other provisions would shorten the time – and vastly reduce the expense – of firing a poorly-performing tenured teacher or a teacher who has engaged in inappropriate conduct.

School districts have long complained that, even with excellent evidence, it can take 18 months to two years to fire a bad teacher, while legal fees and other costs can reach $200,000 or more. SB7 would potentially cut that time in half and greatly reduce the costs, while still protecting teachers’ due process rights.

Why the CTU objected

SB 7 also puts in place a series of actions that teachers unions would have to take before they go out on strike. The process involves participation by mediators and fact-finders, agreed to by the union and school board. Ultimately, disclosure of “final offers” would be made to the general public.

These provisions sparked the CTU’S objection. Late changes to SB 7 set an high threshold for strike votes and didn’t include the provisions for resolving a bargaining impasse between the CTU and the School Board.

The union alleges that the changes were “slipped in at the last minute,” and said the changes would effectively end their right to strike and make contract negotiations virtually meaningless. The CTU wants SB 7 to be amended to address their concerns.

CTU President Karen Lewis told the House committee that the offending provisions were “very confusing” and could not be fully analyzed prior to the Senate vote last month, when the CTU expressed full support for the bill.

For example, SB 7 requires at least 75 percent of the “members” of CTU to authorize the union to call a strike. But there are thousands of individuals who are technically “members” of the organization but who are inactive or otherwise not permitted to participate in strike votes.

Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), who presented the bill to the committee on behalf of its lead sponsor, House Speaker Michael Madigan, said the bill will not be amended before it comes to a vote on the floor of the House.

Currie said a “trailer bill” will be developed to address the CTU concerns.

Currie’s commitment appeared to address the 75 percent strike vote requirement, but left unclear whether a trailer bill would address the union’s concern over the process for resolving disputes over bargaining issues.

Rep. Roger Eddy (R-Hutsonville) told Lewis it will be “very difficult” to resolve that concern.

The committee moved quickly on SB 7. When Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) sought reassurance before the vote that “a trailer bill will in fact be forthcoming,” committee chair Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora) cut her off abruptly and in a somewhat testy manner.

Currie’s word “has been good in my experience for a long time, and it should be for you too,” she told Davis as she moved to end discussion of the bill.

When the roll was called, all 24 committee members supported the bill. Davis conditioned her “yes” vote on her assumption that “a trailer bill will be presented” before SB7 comes to a third-reading vote on the floor of the House. No one assured her that would be the case.