A decision by the Chicago Teachers Union to refuse in-person work and instead continue teaching remotely because of health and safety concerns would constitute an “illegal strike” in the eyes of Chicago Public Schools officials, the district wrote in a letter to all teachers and staff on Thursday.
Though union leaders have been careful not to call their planned action a strike since teachers intend to keep working remotely, CPS human resources chief Matt Lyons said the collective labor action of not returning to schools, as ordered by the district, “is a decision to strike.”
“This vote would cancel in-person learning for the tens of thousands of students who asked to return — and the thousands of pre-k and cluster students who are already learning safely in classrooms,” Lyons wrote.
“Pre-k and cluster program staff are expected to report to work on Monday — as they have done since January 4 — and all K-8 staff without approved leaves of absence or accommodations are expected to report in person beginning Monday, January 25. A collective failure to do so constitutes an illegal strike.”
A CTU spokeswoman said the union “vehemently disagrees” with the district’s assessment, and a union attorney is expected to address reporters later Thursday afternoon.
The CTU’s 600-member House of Delegates approved a measure Wednesday that would see all union members refuse to work in-person until an agreement is reached with the district on health and safety protocols.
The union’s full membership is voting through Saturday night on the following measure: “In response to serious unfair labor practices and the lack of a safe reopening agreement, do you authorize the CTU to conduct remote work only, starting on January 25?” the resolution asks CTU members who will take a vote in the coming days.
“In addition, in the event that CPS retaliates against or locks out members as a result, do you authorize a strike?”
Typically, 75% of the CTU’s rank-and-file members would need to vote in favor of a walkout for a strike to be authorized. In this case, only a simple majority approval would be required, the CTU spokeswoman claims, because members would be walking out over an alleged unfair labor practice — CPS’ supposed refusal to negotiate.
It remains to be seen if CPS officials would lock out all teachers from remote work and withhold their pay as has been done with about 90 preschool and special education teachers and clinicians who have refused to report to their schools as ordered this month. A lockout would have the same effect as a strike — it would be impossible for classes to continue regardless of the venue.