Teachers writing own rules
Legislation designed to discourage teacher strikes in Illinois already is being tested.
In early 2011, state legislators passed an education reform package that included new rules to govern the negotiation of public school teacher contracts.
But, unfortunately, a recent strike authorization vote by Chicago teachers shows the bargaining process is not working as the legislation specified.
Obviously angry teachers voted to allow their union leaders to call a strike before, as the legislation requires, either management or labor made their last best offer. Further, the union vote completely ignores the negotiation timeline, including a 75-day fact-finding process by a third-party panel, that was built into the process.
Interestingly, the legislation that set out the new rules was agreed to by teachers' unions, including the one representing Chicago teachers. Given the turnabout, it's fair to wonder if the Chicago teachers' union is negotiating in good faith.
It should, of course, be no great surprise that unionized teachers in a city best known for its bare-knuckled politics are playing by their own rules. But the school reform package, which included other dramatic changes, was drafted to discourage teachers' strikes in Illinois, particularly in Chicago.
The legislation set out two sets of rules, one governing the Chicago schools and another for everyone else.
It's no secret that Chicago-area politicians, especially new Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, are apoplectic about the possibility of a teachers' strike. That's why the legislation contained tougher rules for Chicago than downstate.
For districts outside Chicago, labor and management, after a reasonable period of mediation, will be required to publicly release their last best offers. Supporters of the proposal contended that this kind of transparency, and resulting public scrutiny, will encourage both sides to settle.
Under Chicago's special rules, either management or labor can, after mediation, opt for a 75-day fact-finding process by third parties. After that, the panel will release its findings to the public. Finally, after a 30-day period, teachers can go on strike, but only if 75 percent of union members authorize a walkout.
It would be incorrect to suggest that what happens in Chicago will happen elsewhere. But if legislation intended to discourage a teacher strike in Chicago fails, it won't be a good sign for similar negotiations outside Chicago.