Union’s labor complaint gains steam

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The Chicago Teachers Union claimed victory Friday following an Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board decision to issue a complaint against Chicago Public Schools over its longer-day pilot program.Although complaints are not the norm when the IELRB receives an unfair labor practice charge, the decision is only the first step in a lengthy legal process.


“A complaint simply means the [director] of the agency thinks there’s a case, but he has to prove the case,” said Matthew Finkin, a labor law professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “There’s enough there to bring the case to trial. But like any other trial, you don’t know what the outcome is going to be.”


He notes that it would be a major defeat for the CTU if the board hadn’t issued a complaint. But, he notes, “it’s by no means a definitive ruling in the union’s favor.”


Out of 339 unfair labor practice charges filed with the IELRB in the 2009-10 fiscal year, the executive director issued complaints and asked for a hearing in 44 cases, and recommended dismissal in 105. The others were withdrawn or settled. (Recommending a hearing or dismissal are the only actions the executive director can take.)


The union has been wrangling with CPS over the longer-day pilot for weeks, charging that CPS was circumventing the union contract by offering schools and teachers extra money to join the pilot by approving contract waivers.


At a press conference on Friday, CTU President Karen Lewis said the district “went around the union and threatened the teachers to waive their rights. The threats were layoffs and closing schools.”


CTU attorney Robert Bloch said “there is sufficient evidence to expect that [the complaint] will be sustained.”


What happens next


CPS has 15 days to file a response to the IELRB complaint.


The IELRB will then consider on Oct. 20 whether to seek a preliminary injunction against the district. For that to happen, the union would have to prove that it is likely to succeed in the case, and that it is suffering irreparable harm while the longer school day votes continue.


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


Even if the IELRB decides to seek an injunction against CPS, it would then have to convince Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to file suit against the district for unfair labor practices. Then, a judge would have to order the district to change school schedules or stop taking votes.


The union’s position has been that the school district should have used the current year to plan, not “coerce” schools to waive the contract.

Lewis had said she would meet with CEO Jean-Claude Brizard to talk about his proposal that the union choose 25 schools to lengthen the school day this year. But that meeting has been delayed. Lewis said Friday that the union wants to meet with Brizard after the Oct. 20 hearing.

At a Friday meeting with pastors in Bronzeville, Lewis said she’s glad she put off that meeting. “I am not interested in having that discussion,” she said.

Lewis also said that she expects that several of the schools where teachers have already approved the waiver and started a longer day will be forced to go back to a regular. She noted one school, Nash, where the complaint charges that a tie vote was broken by a staff member who is not part of the teachers union.


“The board should not be allowed to prosper from illegal activity, even if their intention was good,” she said.

Over the next week, Lewis and other union leaders will decide what they will ask for in the injunction they are expected to file. Among other things, she would like an opportunity to sit down with those schools that have implemented the longer day.

“Some of these votes have been very contentious and we need a safe place to talk,” she said. Lewis also wants CPS to be ordered to stop offering schools the opportunity to be involved in the pilot program.


Lewis told the pastors that the union understands that a longer school day will happen next year, but that she and others wanted to take this year to plan it out.


CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said in a statement that the district will continue to defend its position.


“Parents across Chicago are in overwhelming support of our efforts to lengthen the day and we will continue to work with schools that are looking to join the other longer day pioneers,” she said.


Lewis also said she believes that “the way the board works,” CPS has not issued teachers the 2 percent raises they were promised as part of the incentive to join the pilot.


Intern Candelaria Rosales contributed to this report.