The top of the Chicago Public Schools strike contingency plan Web site today reads, “Due to the Chicago Teachers Union Leadership’s choice to strike, Chicago Public Schools will have 147 Children First sites open on Monday, September 17.”
Such is the level of anger in the labor standoff that even a district informational site takes a shot at the so-called strike of choice. Past union criticisms from CPS and even Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel often were tempered with the claim that a deal was close. But the CTU House of Delegates' decision yesterday to give themselves two more days before voting on whether to end the strike has changed this.
CPS followed through today on Emanuel’s vow last night to file an injunctive relief in circuit court that would halt the strike. Cook County Circuit Court Judge Peter Flynn indicated that the soonest CPS’ case would be heard is Wednesday and that the complaint might be irrelevant by then, given the scheduled Tuesday House of Delegates meeting.
Signed by CPS attorney Lawrence DiNardo, the complaint language is as fiery and dramatic as the most union-critical Emanuel statement.
It contends that there is “no end to the strike in sight” despite the House of Delegates meeting tomorrow. CPS says that the CTU strike is illegal because under a succession of three key state education laws, including last year’s SB7, the union can only strike over wages and benefits.
In making their case, CPS acknowledges that contrary to their public pronouncements last week that the strike is over two issues – new teacher evaluations and tenured teacher recall policies – the strike is actually over several issues related to working conditions. And these issues, contends CPS, cannot legally incite a strike.
According to CPS, the “fundamentally and unmistakably illegal” strike has lead to “prolonged hunger, increased risk of violence and disruption of critical special education services.” Noting that 84 percent of the 354,000 district students receive two federally subsidized meals a day, CPS claims a “vulnerable population has been cast adrift by the CTU’s decision to close down the schools with consequent grave implications for the City of Chicago.”
The union fought fire with fire today. Spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin contended that the complaint “appears to be a vindictive act instigated by the mayor.”
“This attempt to thwart our democratic process is consistent with Mayor Emanuel’s bullying behavior toward public school educators.” Gadlin said.
Steve Ashby, a labor studies professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago and an advocate for the pro-union Chicago Teacher Solidarity Campaign, acknowledges that CTU cannot strike over working conditions such as a lack of air conditioning in the classrooms. “It is a terrible law that teachers are not allowed to strike over learning conditions,” Ashby says.
But Ashby accuses CPS of “hypocrisy” in their argument that the strike is a danger to children’s health. “Not negotiating over air conditioning and nurses threatens the safety of our children,” Ashby says. “Closing schools threatens the safety of our children.”
It bears watching whether the verbal sparring of today and CPS' legal action not only impacts when the strike ends, but further exacerbates a damaged labor-management relationship even once a contract is agreed upon.