‘Illegal and unlawful’: Teachers’ unions in two states sued by parents over harmful strikes

Teachers’ union strikes exact a heavy toll on students and families – a toll leading parents in Chicago and Newton, Massachusetts to file separate lawsuits against their respective…

Teachers’ union strikes exact a heavy toll on students and families – a toll leading parents in Chicago and Newton, Massachusetts to file separate lawsuits against their respective unions.

The suits, which are unconnected, were both filed on Feb. 16 by concerned parents. Both allege negligence, public nuisance and civil conspiracy.

The first is against the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), which became notorious for keeping kids out of school during the pandemic.

‘Chaos was the point of the strike’  

The lawsuit specifically cites the union strike from January 2022, prompted by the Omicron variant of COVID-19. 

“[The CTU] engaged in an illegal and unlawful strike in violation of Illinois law and in clear breach of CTU’s collective bargaining agreement with the Chicago Board of Education,” the plaintiffs argued. “As a result of the unlawful strike, hundreds and thousands of students and parents saw a week of their lives upended. 

“That chaos was a direct, foreseeable result of the strike – indeed, it was the point of the strike, because that chaos is what puts pressure on the mayor and school board to cave to the union’s demands.” 

The suit cites multiple studies proving that when students miss school due to teacher strikes, their academic and economic outcomes suffer. 

One study found each day of missed school was linked to a “0.015-point decline in GPA” for high school students. 

Another study found students in Argentina had 2-3% lower salaries if they previously experienced “strike-related school closures.” 

Parents also suffer during strikes, as they are forced to either take unexpected time off work or pay for childcare. 

The vast majority (76%) of Chicago students are low-income, with the citywide average income being just over $45,000. 

By contrast, Chicago teachers make an average salary of nearly $88,000.  

“CTU undertook this illegal strike at a time when its members made nearly twice what the average household in Chicago made,” the lawsuit noted, “and struck knowing it would impose additional out-of-pocket costs for child care on these overwhelmingly low-income and minority student families.” 

The lawsuit’s charges include negligence, public nuisance, civil conspiracy and breach of contract.  

‘Drive parents to the point of desperation’  

The second suit, which is against the Newton Teachers Association (NTA), includes many of the same arguments regarding academic and economic damages done by strikes. 

But the Newton plaintiffs have an additional complaint: union strikes are illegal in the state of Massachusetts. 

The NTA struck anyway, incurring hundreds of thousands of dollars of fines in the process.  

“The NTA calculated that the school committee would cave if the community could no longer tolerate the inconvenience and disruption caused by the strike,” wrote the plaintiffs, who include the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board, the Newton school board and local parents.  

“The union chose its illegal strike and chose to bear the costs of contempt of this court to keep striking to drive parents to the point of desperation.” 

Its illegal activity was actively encouraged and endorsed by the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) and the National Education Association (NEA), which the suit claims was aiding and abetting. 

Other charges include negligence, public nuisance, illegal striking, civil conspiracy, breach of contract and violating civil rights. 

Prior Massachusetts legal precedent has given students “the right to an adequate public education in a safe and secure learning environment.” 

The plaintiffs are seeking $25 million in damages.