Judge: CTA workers may pass out 'Transit for Chuy' fliers in break rooms

SHARE Judge: CTA workers may pass out 'Transit for Chuy' fliers in break rooms
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The Amalgamated Transit Union formally endorsed Jesus “Chuy” Garica in December. | Sun-Times file photo

A federal judge on Thursday ordered the Chicago Transit Authority to let bus and rail workers pass out fliers backing mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia in their break rooms.

U.S. District Judge Robert M. Dow Jr.’s temporary restraining order lasts until April 16, well after the runoff election Tuesday between Garcia and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Until it is lifted, the CTA may not prohibit members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Locals 241 and 308 from passing out the fliers in break rooms, discipline those members for passing them out or threaten to discipline them for doing so.

Lawyers for both sides are expected back in court April 13.

Dow wrote in a legal memo that the ATU could suffer “irreparable harm” without the temporary restraining order. He brushed off the CTA’s argument that the ATU could campaign through email or in CTA parking lots, noting the ATU claimed not to have the email addresses of thousands of members.

“Second, given the unpredictability of weather in early April in Chicago, requiring [the ATU] to campaign in outdoor parking lots may well make their efforts less effective, particularly because similar campaign activity appears to have taken place in the break rooms in previous years,” Dow wrote.

And he said the ATU members’ “final opportunity to express their views on the two candidates is approaching.”

The ATU locals filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the CTA, arguing the CTA violated workers’ freedom of speech by prohibiting “Transit for Chuy” fliers from break rooms. CTA officials argued the ATU was seeking to “violate long-standing state laws that prohibit political activities on government property and government time, at taxpayer expense.”

“Justice has been served in Chicago today, despite Mayor Emanuel’s best efforts,” ATU International President Larry Hanley said in a statement.

In a written statement, the CTA said it “is fully committed to protecting the right to free speech, and in this case is only working to ensure all activities comply with state law prohibiting political activity on government time or on government property.”

“Today’s decision is not on the merits of the case, and the judge acknowledged that CTA’s position that we are upholding state laws concerning prohibited political activities may ultimately prevail,” the agency said.

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