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  • Illinois Labor Board Denies Injunction for 26 Million Dollars In Back Pay To Chicago Teachers (extended)
    Updated On: Apr 07, 2016

    By JoAnne Pow!ers, February 26, 2016

    An Illinois labor board dominated by appointees of conservative governor Bruce Rauner denied an injunction last week to require Chicago Public Schools to pay 26 million dollars in back pay to teachers during their ongoing contract negotiations. The back pay, from what are called lane-and-step pay increases based on experience and longevity, is mandated by the teachers’ last contract, which expired in June. Chicago Public Schools is trying to end these lane-and-step payments in a new contract, and insist they won’t make them during negotiations, nor honor them through at least the first year of any new contract. Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey:

    [Jesse Sharkey]: “The way labor law works is that while the two parties are bargaining the employer’s supposed to continue to honor the terms of the expired agreement. Workers, the union is not allowed to strike during that period either. We’re currently involved in negotiations, which is why we think that the employer should continue honoring lanes-and-steps…they’ve been part of our agreement since the labor agreement existed. Our argument was that it’s cast a shadow over the current negotiations, which forces us to essentially bargain to put something back in our contract which was already there, but the Labor Board didn’t go for that argument.”

    The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board didn’t actually make a ruling about whether or not the School Board was right in refusing to pay lanes and steps, and the school district may eventually have to pay for the mandated increases:

    [Jesse Sharkey]: “The case itself is still very much alive. We still hope to prove our case in front of the Education Labor Board. What the board ruled is that our motion for a preliminary injunction was not sustained. The threshold for winning your case legally is different with a preliminary injunction than it is with the case. I still think we’ve got a very strong argument in front of the whole board.”

    Sharkey feels that the school district’s refusal to make the payments is part of a larger attack on teachers and public education:

    [Jesse Sharkey]: “There’s an awful lot of uncertainty in the schools right now. They’ve managed to create a fiscal crisis through consistently leaving revenue on the table, by making very profitable contracts for the people who are privatizing our education system. So you’ve seen massive increases in parts of the school budget that don’t go to teachers, while you’ve actually seen a decrease in the parts of the budget that do go to teachers.”

    With contract negotiations ongoing, Sharkey didn’t rule out more direct action in the future:

    [Jesse Sharkey]: “We still have to bargain a contract, and our real strength is in our worksites, with the public… ultimately in our ability to withhold our labor. We’re going to continue both sort of pressing our case, but maybe more importantly trying to build unity, make a public case and make the bosses in Illinois deal with the prospect of a city shutdown if they can’t treat workers fairly.”

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