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  • Press conference/rally: 5PM, Wednesday, May 1
    Chicago High School for the Arts, 2714 W. Augusta Blvd., Chicago

Teachers, support staff are striking for living wages, adequate student supports, pension rights, protections for immigrant and special education students.

CHICAGO—CTU members will kick off their May Day strike against multiple charter operators with a press conference and rally at 5PM Wednesday, May 1, at ChiArts, one of the striking schools, located at 2714 W. Augusta Blvd.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten will join strikers at the rally. The 1.7 million-member AFT represents teachers, paraprofessionals, school-related personnel, higher education faculty and staff, nurses and other healthcare professionals, early childhood educators, and local, state and federal government employees across the nation.

Wednesday’s strike is the first multi-employer charter strike in U.S. history.

More unionized charter schools could join the strike in the coming days if progress is not made at the bargaining table.

Management at the bargaining tables has fought against making their financial information public—even though they’re publicly funded. Management has also consistently lowballed wages and benefits for teachers and support staff, some of whom earn barely $30,000 per year. And management is resisting embedding language in contracts that commits operators to following federal law for special education students, resisting demands for smaller classes, and rejecting demands for better resourced classrooms and wrap-around supports for students.

CTU members at charter schools voted overwhelmingly to strike in April. The strike officially begins after the close of the workday May 1.

Educators can earn 40% or less than what comperable workers earn in CPS-run schools—driving high turnover, with staff churn averaging 20% per year or more at some schools.

ChiArts teachers are also demanding that the operator contribute to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund, as charters across the city are required to do. Management initially agreed but then rejected that demand, claiming that because the school organized as a ‘contract’ rather than a charter to allow for selective student enrollment, they don’t have to legally contribute.

School co-founder and wealthy investment banker Jim Mabie fought for an agreement from striking CSO musicians, where he also serves on the board, that threatens the permanency of the musicians’ pension, as well.

The charter industry is in desperate need of reform. Operators routinely drain public education dollars away from classrooms to bankroll exorbitant executive salaries, duplicative and bloated bureaucracies and outrageous management fees—often controlled by those same operators—that can suck up as much as 30% of the public education dollars operators receive.

Schools expected to be on strike include IHSCA, the Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy, and IJLA, the Instituto Justice Leadership Academy, serving students aged 17-21 who previously left school and are seeking a high school diploma.  Students at both Instituto schools are overwhelmingly low-income, Latinx, and have high percentages of limited English-speaking students.

Academic teachers at ChiArts, where teachers are fighting for classroom resources and pensions, will also strike. Workers at Latino Youth High School, or LYHS, run by charter management organization Pilsen Wellness Center (PWC), could also strike depending on how bargaining progresses Tuesday and Wednesday. The operator is
trying to force a longer school day with salary cuts in the next three years, while demanding concessions in working conditions. The school’s almost 90% Latinx and 10% Black students suffer from high rates of trauma.

Educators at YCLA—Youth Connection Leadership Academy—run by charter operator YCCS, have also voted to strike but could stay at the bargaining table. Some educators earn barely a fifth of the salary of YCLA’s CEO, who earns almost $180,000 per year. Four Aspira schools—Haugen, Pantoja, Business & Finance HS and Early College HS, which together enroll 1,400 students—are expected to remain at the bargaining table, but have reserved the right to strike if necessary in the coming days or weeks. The schools serve an overwhelmingly low-income Latinx student population.