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Collective Bargaining


Quality Education • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

For more than 25 years, teachers and school employees have had the right to bargain collectively with their employers. During that time, the state has seen a steep decline in school strikes. But critics like the notoriously anti-union Chicago Tribune, self-proclaimed education advocacy groups and even some lawmakers now want to take away that right and deny teachers a voice in the profession. • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

The question is, “Why?” A History of Effectiveness Teachers and educational employees were granted collective bargaining rights under the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act (IELRA), which took effect in January, 1984. The IELRA provides for collective bargaining between employees and their employing school districts, defines what issues can be negotiated and outlines alternatives for breakdowns in negotiations, including mediation (bargaining assistance from a neutral third party in an effort to reach an agreement) and arbitration (a process which concludes with a neutral third party imposing a settlement). Passage of the IELRA ushered in a new era of cooperation between educational employees and their employers. In the 1970’s and 80s, prior to the passage of the law, as many as 40 teacher strikes a year occurred in Illinois. Though striking was not legal at that time, teachers often felt they had no choice but to strike to fight for a voice in their professions when school boards would not let them be heard. Teacher leaders who went to jail during illegal strikes spoke about teaching democracy but having no right to participate in it. Once teachers and other school employees were given the voice they deserve under the IELRA, the number of strikes dramatically declined. Since 1984, there has been an average of only 10 strikes per year. In the last five years, the annual average has plummeted to four out of approximately 869 school districts statewide.

A Voice for Students and Quality Education Some critics claim that allowing collective bargaining has a detrimental effect on public education. There is simply no proof to support that claim. In fact, studies by the National Education Policy Center, the Center for Evaluation and Education Collective Bargaining Supports Quality Education | Illinois Federation of Teachers

Policy, Harvard University and others have shown that collective bargaining rights correlate to increased student achievement. It seems clear that when teachers have a say at the bargaining table, they use their voice to fight for what has been proven to benefit education and student achievement, including smaller class sizes, professional development for teachers, academic freedom, school safety measures, and expanded services for students for programs like art, music, and physical education. Though strikes have become increasingly rare in Illinois, when they do occur they have been shorter and resulted in fewer school days lost for students than pre-IELRA strikes. Clearly, permitting teachers and school employees the right to bargain with their employers does not have a negative impact on education quality or student achievement.

Following the Rules IELRA has created an environment where teachers and other school employees come to the table with an equal voice with their employer and the right to be heard, making strikes rare occurrences. The IELRA has also put in place strict conditions to ensure that, in the event parties have difficulty reaching agreement, all avenues for negotiations have been exhausted before a strike may legally occur. Mediation (a process that occurs when a neutral third-party works with the parties to reach voluntary agreement) is mandated for every contract not settled near the beginning of the school year. A strike can take place only if: • mediation has been unsuccessful • the union has given the required 10 day notice of intent to strike to the appropriate parties and the 10 days have passed • the collective bargaining agreement (contract) has expired • the employer and the union have not mutually and voluntarily submitted unresolved issues to arbitration

Local Control Should Prevail Some school critics believe that mandatory arbitration is the solution to the “problem” of school strikes. In the event when two parties have difficulty reaching agreement, these critics propose that a third-party enforce a resolution on the employees and school districts. Currently, parties may voluntarily agree to arbitration and to be bound to the final result. But to require it would erode local control. Illinois Federation of Teachers | Collective Bargaining Supports Quality Education

In school districts outside of Chicago, the citizens elect representatives to focus on the operation of their local schools. School districts do not need an outside third-party making decisions that locally-elected school boards have been chosen to make. Taxpayers should have the right to elect school officials to be the decision makers who share their community’s viewpoints and to hold them accountable. Binding arbitration would undermine their rights and could create a negative relationship between the two parties moving forward.

Always a Last Resort The IELRA has done what it was intended to do ¬ create a more cooperative, collaborative relationship between school employees and employers. When the parties seem unable to reach agreement, statistics prove that strikes are always a last resort for teachers and school employees. They are difficult financially and personally for all parties involved; teachers and school employees never go on strike without serious, and often painful, considerations. But in the event that all other options have failed to produce a fair settlement, the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) believes that the right to strike is essential and plays a critical role in the collective bargaining process.


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Collective Bargaining Supports Quality Education  

An educational piece describing the collective bargaining process in Illinois.

Collective Bargaining Supports Quality Education  

An educational piece describing the collective bargaining process in Illinois.