Special Legal Notice to Teachers Represented by the Chicago Teachers Union

Major news sources report that the Chicago Teachers Union will go on strike if Chicago Public Schools does not agree to its demands in monopoly bargaining agreement negotiations. If it occurs, the planned strike will start on Thursday, October 17, 2019. CTU union bosses announced on October 2 that CTU’s walkout will coincide with strikes by Service Employees Union Local 73, which represents school support staff, such as security guards and custodians, and Chicago Park District workers. On the other hand, the Chicago Tribune reported on October 3 that Mayor Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools officials will attempt to keep the schools open during the strikes and allow nonunion staff to work during the strike.

This situation raises serious concerns for employees who believe there is much to lose from a union ordered strike.

Employees have the legal right to rebuff union officials’ strike demands, but it is important for them to be informed before they do so.


The Foundation wants you to learn about your legal rights from independent sources. You should not rely on what self-interested union officials tell you. For more than five decades, Foundation attorneys have worked in the courts and labor agencies to protect and expand individual employees’ rights in situations such as strikes. It is the nation’s premier organization exclusively dedicated to providing free legal assistance to employee victims of forced unionism abuses.

Employees of the Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Park District should know they have the following rights:

1) A union has no disciplinary power over nonmembers and cannot discipline them for crossing a picket line and working during a strike. If you are currently not a member of the CTU or SEIU Local 73, you have the right to go to work even if the union bosses order a strike.

2) If you are currently a union member, you have the right to resign your union membership. Union officials can (and often do) levy large fines against union members who work during a strike. If you are now a union member and want to work during a strike, you should seriously consider resigning your union membership at least one day BEFORE you return to work. That is the only way to avoid possible ruinous union fines and other discipline. To have the best legal defense possible against fines the union may try to impose, you should give the union notice of your resignation BEFORE you cross the picket line so that when you return to work you are not a union member.

The decisions whether to resign your union membership and/or cross the picket line are wholly yours. The Foundation is simply providing this information so that your decisions are informed. If you are a member and decide to resign your union membership, please follow this link, https://myjanusrights.org/, for a sample letter resigning your membership in the union and revoking any authorization for the union and employer to collect any fees or dues from your pay.

NOTE: Although not legally required, the best practice is to send your resignation letters to the union and employer by certified mail, return receipt requested, and save copies of your letters and return receipts to prove delivery. If you hand deliver a letter, make sure that you have a reliable witness to the delivery. In our experience, angry and dishonest union officials often pretend they did not actually receive resignations and initiate discipline against non-striking workers anyway. If you encounter any difficulties in exercising your right to work during a strike, you can contact the Foundation to request free legal aid at www.nrtw.org/free-legal-aid.

3) It is Foundation attorneys’ best legal opinion that public sector employees have a First Amendment right to resign their membership in a union at any time. At least two federal district courts have reached that conclusion. See McCahon v. Pa. Turnpike Comm’n, 491 F. Supp. 2d 522 (M.D. Pa. 2007); Debont v. City of Poway, No. 98CV0502-K, 1998 WL 415844 (S.D. Cal. Apr. 14, 1998). If you encounter any difficulties in resigning your union membership, you can contact the Foundation to request free legal aid at www.nrtw.org/free-legal-aid, by email to legal@nrtw.org, or calling 800-336-3600 toll free.

4) The United States Supreme Court has held that nonmembers of a public sector union have a First Amendment right not to pay any union fees or dues, unless they have freely waived their First Amendment rights. See Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448, 2486 (2018). A union has the burden of proving employees waived their First Amendment rights by “clear and compelling” evidence. Some unions claim that employees who authorized their employer to deduct union dues and fees in the past have waived their First Amendment rights. Whether a dues deduction authorization is an effective waiver depends on when it was signed and how it was worded. You can contact the Foundation as noted above to request free legal aid if you encounter any difficulties in getting the union and employer to stop collecting union fees or dues from you.

5) If you wish to eject an unwanted union hierarchy from your workplace, you have the right to petition for a secret ballot decertification election to do so. Information about Illinois laws on decertification is available here: https://www.nrtw.org/public-sector-decertification-laws-as-of-3-2019/.