Union for Chicago schools support staff rejects fact-finder report, moves toward strike

As Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her team continue talks with the city’s teachers union to head off a strike, the clock has started ticking toward yet another walkout — this time of special education classroom aides, bus aides, and custodians, whose union formally rejected a neutral fact-finder’s report on Monday. 

The strike threat, which has a similar timeline to the teachers’ ultimatum, puts additional pressure on Chicago. 

If teachers walk out, schools are likely to close altogether and families would have to find alternate arrangements for their children. If special education aides and bus aides strike, thousands of families could lose transportation and critical supports for children with special needs. 

The same lawyer, James Franczek, represents the city in negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union and the support-staff union, the Service Employees International Union Local 73.  

The earliest Local 73 workers could strike is Oct. 17 — just 10 days after the Chicago Teachers Union’s earliest strike date of Oct. 7. 

Local 73 officials said the union rejected the fact-finder’s report because it didn’t suggest high enough raises for special education assistants. The union argues their starting salary of just over $31,000  is unacceptably low. The union also wants to prevent special education aides from being tapped to work as substitute teachers. 

On the teacher negotiations front, Franczek sent a letter (leaked to the Chicago Tribune) to union officials on Friday accusing them of not responding to key proposals on health benefits, teacher evaluations, substitute teachers and grading practices. 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, speaking at an unrelated press conference on Monday, said the letter was intended to show that city officials had been bargaining in good faith.

“We have a sincere effort in trying to move this forward,” Lightfoot said. 

In response, the union called the letter disingenuous and said school officials were “being absolutely dishonest.” The union doubled down on its call to include staffing promises in the contract, rather than promising them through school budgets and other measures. 

The exchange between the sides has featured increasingly aggressive rhetoric. But in the back and forth, both sides could be pointing out the other’s lapses for another reason: They could be building evidence to protect themselves from an unfair labor practice accusation. 

Bargaining in good faith, which means that both sides have to do their best to attend bargaining sessions, work through the representatives chosen by each side, and seriously consider the proposals on the table, isn’t just an effort to be professional. 

Under labor law, any party that fails to bargain in good faith opens itself up to an unfair labor practice lawsuit. 

That would allow one side to appeal to the federal labor board and stall bargaining altogether. 

That tactic is particularly important to the union, said César F. Rosado Marzán, an employment lawyer at Chicago’s Kent College of Law. “If they reach an impasse, they may argue the other side is not bargaining in good faith,” Rosado Marzán said. “That will help them have a legal reason to go on strike.” 

The Chicago Teachers Union will hold a strike authorization vote on Sep. 26. 

Local 73 plans to picket Tuesday outside Newberry Math and Science Academy. 

Read the full letter from Franczek here: