District 15 strike ruling on nurses, aides could set precedent
An expert on Illinois labor relations laws says Palatine Township District 15's success in asking a judge to prohibit teachers aides and nurses from striking could prompt other districts to try the same legal maneuver.
Chicago Kent College of Law Professor Martin Malin says it's likely Cook County Judge Neil Cohen's Tuesday ruling to send 168 nurses and classroom aides back to work will be appealed to a higher court.
However, he said, "it's hard to remember a similar scenario ... could this embolden the next district facing a strike to seek an injunction? It might."
Malin, who worked at the state's Labor Relations Board and helped draft state statute, said public employees and employees of public schools can be prohibited from striking if there is a showing "of a clear and present danger to public health and safety."
"It's really clear that this was crafted to be a very, very narrow exception with a standard that's difficult to meet," he said.
Court documents filed Monday by District 15 say the 153 classroom aides and 15 nurses forced back to work provide health and safety services to students with severe medical conditions and disabilities.
The aides, according to the filings, have duties including "lifting and repositioning students" with spina bifida and cerebral palsy who could develop bed sores and assisting students with feeding tubes. The nurses provide catheterization for several students and serve children with diabetes and epilepsy.
Cohen agreed there was a "clear and present danger" for District 15's 374 most vulnerable students ages 3 to 14.
Malin says the determination that danger could be imminent to students is key. "Part of that is showing that they cannot be protected by some other method that's available to the employer," he said.
Chicago Public Schools tried a similar legal play during a teachers' strike in 2012, but a tentative contract was agreed upon before it could be heard in court.
Malin said he knows of only one other strike by an educational employer that was barred by an injunction. That was last month when a Cook County Judge ruled 213 nurses at the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago couldn't strike because it endangered patient safety.
Another 286 District 15 employees remain on the picket line for the strike that began Monday. Illinois Education Association officials say negotiations have taken an "unfortunate" turn for the district's lowest-paid employees, some of whom make $11 an hour.