Is the Chicago Teachers Union's refusal to work in-person legal?

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union refuse to work in their classrooms. But is it an illegal, wildcat strike?

Labor lawyer Burt Odelson, who represents several suburban school boards, says the union does not have the unilateral authority it's claiming to force students to return to remote learning.

"It’s an unauthorized wildcat strike. It's the employees telling the boss, ‘we're doing what we want! Pay us anyway. And, if you don't succumb to what our terms of employment are, too bad!’ That's exactly what it is. It's a wildcat strike," Odelson said.

Instead of walking out of classrooms, Odelson says teachers should have used the grievance procedure laid out in their collective bargaining contract with the Chicago Board of Education. Odelson says the city should seek a court order to end the illegal job action.


But Bob Bruno, a University of Illinois professor who is an expert in labor relations, said the union is making a health and safety argument that may transcend the law and suggests getting a court order could backfire on Mayor Lori Lightfoot's administration.

"You might win legally. But that doesn't get your teachers into school. That doesn't get your kids educated. In the meantime, of course, you're not holding classes," Bruno said. "At the heart of it, it's a group of workers overwhelmingly saying, ‘we don't think that the schools are safe enough.’"