Labor board sides with teachers union in fight over longer school day

October 20, 2011

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(Sean Gallup/Getty Images, file)

Chicago Public Schools’ efforts to add 90 extra minutes to elementary schools’ day hit a snag today.

A state labor board ruled in favor of the Chicago Teachers Union—which is challenging the way the district has gone about getting its longer day this year in elementary schools. That’s been through school-by-school votes in which teachers voluntarily waive parts of their contract. 

The Illinios Educational Labor Relations Board’s 5-0 ruling has no immediate effect on the district’s continued efforts to get schools to sign onto the longer day, or on the 13 schools where a majority of teachers have already agreed to work a longer day. But it is significant because it allows the issue to move to the courts, where an injunction could be issued.

Listen to reporter Linda Lutton talk about the labor board decision with WBEZ host Melba Lara:

“If it is permitted to pursue this conduct, the school board would end collective bargaining as we know it in Illinois,” CTU attorney Robert Bloch told the labor board Thursday. “The school board has made clear it has no intention of stopping at the 13 schools where it has already succeeded. Unless restrained, it will continue to rewrite the terms and conditions of employment at 450 or more elementary schools.

Chicago Public Schools called the labor board’s decision “disappointing” and said it believes the waivers, which are allowed for in both the teachers’ contract and state law as a way for schools to make adjustmnets to contractual mandates, are legal. The district says it will continue with 90 extra minutes at 13 schools until a judge decides whether to grant an injunction.

In arguing before the labor board today, CPS attorney Jennifer Dunn challenged labor board members not to deprive the mostly low-income and minority students of needed school time.

“There is no question that an injunction that rolls back the longer school day will significantly disrupt the educational and operational stability of these schools—and adversely affect the lives of 4,000 CPS students,”  Dunn said.

The labor board issued its decision without deliberation immediately following oral arguments from both sides.

Nine of the 13 schools that have approved a longer day are currently operating under that schedule. The district has praised teachers at those schools for giving students more learning time, and has said the rest of the district will learn from their experience when all CPS elementary schools extend their day next school year.

The union, however, alleges teachers were coerced and bribed into voting for longer days. The district has offered schools up to $150,000 if they switch to the longer day; the funds are for staff, curriculum or other needs. In addition, teachers were offered cash payments of up to $1,250 at schools that added 90 minutes to the day.

Union attorneys told the labor board Thursday that the normal school day should be restored at the 13 schools, and no further votes should be allowed. It said teachers should be compensated at the regular rate spelled out in the union contract for any additional time they’ve worked already. It said if CPS has made cash payments to teachers those should be returned.

Chicago Public Schools attorneys said for the first time that teachers who voted for waivers were giving up about $6,200. That’s what teachers would have been paid for the longer day under the current contract terms.

In a brief filed in advance of Thursday’s hearing, the union said a “sword of Damocles” hangs over it as the two sides begin to negotiate a new contract. It's concerned the district unilaterally decided to pay teachers two percent more for what the CTU says is 20 percent more work. It argues that unfairly imposes a new starting point for discussions on wages in the next contract. It also alleges that CPS is trying to turn teachers against their own union.

The union says discussions last weekend and more talks this week have failed to produce a resolution.