Sisters and brothers in the Chicago Teachers Union-Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (CTU-ACTS) division have been working hard for many months and through the summer to counteract the downward pressure on the teaching profession imposed by the privatization and austerity politics of our mayor and governor. These members have previously notched some formidable wins amongst their 10 current contracts, including an enforceable class size cap of 23 at one school and beating merit pay.

Fair contract now

Over the past two years, charter funding has ballooned, yet our members in those schools have not seen that spending in the form of resources or additional benefits. Staffing—especially for special education—remains a critical problem and compensation lags far behind the Chicago Public Schools contract.

Leaders in the CTU-ACTS division have lined up 11 of their 12 contracts to negotiate concurrently this summer and fall, and members are galvanized to fight for dramatic improvements to their rights and benefits.

Wins around special education, staffing and compensation in this round of charter negotiations will give the Chicago Teachers Union leverage at the table for its negotiations this year. Plan on joining rallies and actions with CTU-ACTS members this fall to fight the mayor’s corporate reform agenda and raise standards for all Chicago educators. An injury to one is an injury to all, and a gain for one needs to become a gain for all!

IHSCA, for the win

CTU-ACTS members at Illinois Health Sciences Career Academy (IHSCA), a charter school in Little Village, have won an impressive victory by organizing members and parents.

Members at unionized charter schools have negotiated to earn due process (the equivalent of tenure) after one or two years—even 90 days in one contract. Yet towards the end of last semester, the principal at IHSCA made the unprecedented decision to exercise management’s contractual right to extend a one-year probationary period into a second year for seven of 13 educators completing their first year. Another educator was given notice of dismissal at the end of the year.

Educators at IHSCA, members of our CTU-ACTS division, sprang into action, with almost all of the bargaining unit signing a petition demanding renewal without probation for the seven and non-termination for the other educator.

A grievance was filed because management had not met with the union to advise it of the probation extensions, as required in the contract. When members delivered the petition, management set up a meeting to address the grievance and defended their decision.

Unsatisfied with management’s legal, yet unfair, response to the grievance, members rallied parents around the cause, and parents showed up to the charter’s board meeting, at which six students spoke eloquently and forcefully in support of all eight CTU-ACTS members. The students presented a petition signed by more than 200 of the school’s 600 students and threatened to hold an event with media if their demands were not met within one week.

A teacher-parent-student walk-in with media was planned for one of the last days of school. Late in the afternoon on the day before the walk-in, administration acceded to all of the union demands, rescinding probation for the seven educators and rescinding termination for the eighth. And members have just been advised that there will be a new principal this school year.

Members at IHSCA have proved that the power of collective action does not end at the last page of our contract. But they are also now mobilizing their collective power to support coordinated bargaining in which they and 10 of the other CTU-ACTS bargaining units are participating this fall. CTU members at charter schools are using their contract campaigns to signal wins for all educators in Chicago, with bold demands for wages, working conditions and justice for our students.

Chris Baehrend is chair of the CTU-ACTS division of the Chicago Teachers Union.

This article appears in the September 2018 issue of the Chicago Union Teacher.