For the Record: Injunction to stop a strike?

September 6, 2012

With a teachers strike perhaps only days away, one weapon that CPS could use to end a walkout is a court injunction: A section of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act, added to state law during the 1990s, indicates that if a teacher strike “is or has become a clear and present danger to the health or safety of the public” the employer can ask for a legal injunction to stop the strike.

But the law states that “an unfair labor practice or other evidence of lack of clean hands by the educational employer is a defense to such action.” The Chicago Teachers Union, likely looking to strengthen its hand, announced Wednesday that it had filed unfair labor practice charges against CPS with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board.

It’s a move that had been in the works since Aug. 30, when the CTU House of Delegates set a Sept. 10 strike date. “(The delegates) determined they were striking both over the contract, and over the unfair labor practices,” CTU attorney Robert Bloch says. 

The charges stem from the fact that CPS did not pay teachers step increases this year, implemented a new teacher evaluation system, and stopped the practice of sick-day payouts—all of which were illegal, the CTU argues, without negotiating them in a new contract. The union is also charging that CPS “is refusing to arbitrate grievances (and) give the Union relevant information, and has intimidated teachers who engaged in informational picketing at James Monroe Elementary School.”

As Bloch pointed out Wednesday, employers are prohibited from hiring permanent replacements during unfair labor practice strikes. CPS has said it does not plan to hire teachers to provide any teaching during the strike.

It’s not clear what the standard would be for a dangerous strike—though the city is now experiencing a troubling upsurge in shootings and homicides—or how much of a defense the unfair labor practice charges would be.

“There is no case law on any of it,” Bloch says. “It is total uncharted territory. There is nothing more to go on than what the law says.” Most of the states that allow teachers to strike have similar provisions in their laws, Bloch adds, “where under certain circumstances the employees can be ordered back to work.”

Jonathan Furr, a lawyer who was part of the negotiations over Senate Bill 7 and who is the director of the Office of Educational Systems Innovation at Northern Illinois University, says that “the alleged unfair labor practice would weigh against the potential danger to the public” in a judge’s consideration.

As for whether a judge would stop a strike? “My understanding is that it’s generally a fairly high bar,” Furr says. “That being said, I think there could be a strong case to be made, particularly in Chicago.”