Labor board seeks injunction against longer school day

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The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board voted unanimously to recommend that a temporary injunction be issued to stop Chicago Public Schools from expanding the number of schools with a longer school day, but it will not try to get the schools that have already implemented the schedule to revert to a standard schedule.

The decision is now forwarded to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose office acts as general counsel for the IELRB. She will have to decide whether she’ll heed their decision and ask a Cook County judge to issue the temporary injunction.

The temporary injunction order demands CPS quit approaching teachers to vote for a longer day and to stop offering incentives for it. Also, it says that CPS should “cease and desist from unilaterally modifying the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.”

IELRB members clearly believe that CPS officials violated the law as they sought to extend the school day—one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s top agenda items.  “In the United States of America, no entity is above the law,” IELRB members wrote in their opinion.   

However, letting the schools that have already implemented the longer day continue with it is a win for CPS.

On Dec. 14, arguments in the case will begin, and an administrative law judge will recommend a decision in the case.

James Franczek, who represented CPS, said he was dismayed by the IERLB decision and thought the board had made up their minds before listening to the arguments. But he also downplayed it, noting that many steps would have to take place before a temporary injunction would be issued.

But CTU attorney Robert Bloch said he expects the attorney general to follow the lead of the labor relations board and that the matter should be in front of a judge and decided within weeks.

Though the IELRB is often asked to provide temporary injunctions, it is unusual for them to recommend it, said Gerald Berendt, a law professor at John Marshall and a former chairman of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board. They must find that the complaint is likely to prevail and that not issuing a temporary injunction could lead to irreparable harm.

Madigan doesn’t have strict legal criteria to govern her decision on whether to take the issue to the circuit court, but instead will consider what is in the best interest of the people. In the past, attorney generals have been influenced by a number of factors, Berendt said.

CTU President Karen Lewis said the board’s decision was not a foregone conclusion and that she was stunned.

Collective bargaining

Much of the argument made by CPS attorney Jennifer Dunn had to do with technical issues. She said that the IELRB did not have jurisdiction over the case and that the school code allows waiver votes on items in contracts to take place. But Chairwoman Lynne O. Sered seemed to reject those points, noting that they have ruled on similar cases.

Also, she asked Dunn if she was saying that the school code, which allows waivers, trumps state law, which requires proper collective bargaining. Dunn responded that she was not saying that.

Bloch opened up his argument by making it clear that the union thought this was a much bigger issue than just whether teachers could vote on waivers.

In the past, waivers had been limited to specific collective bargaining issues and had mostly been used by schools to change start times or to modify the school day hours. In this case, he contended CPS did more than that: They not only sought to extend the school hours, but they also renegotiated teacher wages.

 He said CPS officials decided to approach teachers at individual schools after the union rejected the district’s request to re-open the current contract, which is set to expire in June. He disclosed that CPS not only wanted a longer day, but also to add 10 days onto the school year.

“The school district would not take no for an answer,” he said.   

By going directly to teachers and offering them a bonus of $1,250 and their schools $150,000 in discretionary money, Bloch said CPS was effectively trying to make the union moot. “This is a broad-side attack on collective bargaining,” he said.

The CTU complaint also says that CPS principals threatened teachers with layoffs and school closings, as well as promised them some things like iPads.

In their decision, the IERLB members said they believed the union’s position had merit. “An employer which bargains directly with its employees rather than dealing with their exclusive representative breaches its duty to bargain in good faith” and violates the law.

Fate of the “pioneer” schools

In its opinion, the IELRB members also wrote that they believed letting CPS continue to push its pilot program would cause irreparable harm. For one thing, if teachers committed the extra time teaching, they couldn’t get that time back.

Also, the harm would continue should CPS be allowed to go forward. “This is not a case of a few incidents, but potentially affects all of Respondent’s elementary schools,” notes the opinion.

CPS officials were obviously worried about having the schools be forced to go back to their original schedule. Dunn told the IERLB members that nine schools are already operating on an extended schedule and four of them are well on their way for planning a longer day. To make them revert to a standard schedule would be highly disruptive, she said.

“It would take away 90 minutes of instruction time,” Dunn said. “They will no longer have the time to focus on reading, math, science and social studies. They will not have time for recess or a standard lunch.”

She added that 284 special education students have had their individualized education plans altered to account for the extra time in school. Should the injunction call for these schools to go back, these students would also be harmed, Dunn said.

But Bloch argued that continuing the longer school day would make it more difficult to abandon should the union win a permanent injunction. He also said it made no sense for them to continue holding waiver votes at schools.

This hearing is just one more episode in a contentious back and forth between the union and CPS officials.

Lewis and CEO Jean-Claude Brizard have been going back and forth for weeks about having a meeting to discuss the issue. Lewis said they were supposed to meet Thursday morning and she wasn’t the one to cancel. CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said Brizard didn’t cancel and they are still trying to come up with a date.  

Before the hearing, the CTU issued a press release saying its attorneys had approached CPS and offered them this settlement: The union would back down from the complaint if CPS agreed to limit the pilot program to the 13 schools, let the teachers revote and to appropriately compensate the teachers and school employees. CTU said CPS reacted negatively to the offer. 

Carroll said the proposals discussed by the attorneys were “off the record.” She says Brizard never saw a formal proposal.

CPS officials countered with their own proposal, which was similar to a previous proposal they had made. They offered to work with CTU to choose a fixed number of schools to start the longer day in January, but not to go forward with any more schools without agreement from the union.

“The idea of course is to put the 13 behind us and move forward positively on other schools. This alternative offer was rejected,” Carroll said.