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  • Press conference/rally: 4:30 PM, Thursday, April 25
    Arturo Velazquez Westside Technical Institute, 2800 S. Western Ave., Chicago
Teachers, support staff will walk out if demands for living wages, adequate student supports, pension rights, protections for immigrant and diverse learners are not met.

CHICAGO—Chicago could be on the cusp of a third strike against charter operators in the current school year, as negotiations drag on with operators of five schools, and four additional schools consider striking this spring. This would be the first multi-employer charter strike in U.S. history.

CTU educators will join City Colleges clerks and technical workers in AFT/IFT Local 1708 at 4:30 PM on Thursday, April 25 at the Arturo Velazquez Westside Technical Institute at 2800 S. Western Ave., where both groups will announce strike dates. Then workers will head two blocks north to Instituto Progresso del Latino’s IHSCA charter campus at 2520 S. Western Ave. to rally.

CTU charter members at two schools run by Instituto Progresso del Latino share a common target with City College clerks. City Colleges chancellor Juan Salgado ran Instituto before he was appointed as top brass at City Colleges. Under his leadership, workers at both shops have gotten the shaft, charge teachers. City Colleges clerks have been without a contract for almost three years, while Instituto under both Salgado and his heirs has steered public dollars away from classroom needs into a bloated bureaucracy and non-educational spending.

The five schools considering striking employ 134 CTU members who educate almost 1,800 students. All five schools voted overwhelmingly to strike earlier this month, with 94 percent of union members voting, and 97 percent voting to strike if there is no progress at the bargaining table.

CTU members are demanding protections built into the contract to provide special education students with the services they both need and are entitled to under federal law. They’re demanding more support for English language learners and immigrant students—including sanctuary protections enshrined in contract language. And union members are demanding adequate staffing and resources for schools that confront serious shortages of both, along with equal pay for equal work with their colleagues in CPS, who teach the same student population for better wages and working conditions.

At ChiArts, which was cofounded by wealthy investment banker Jim Mabie, teachers are also fighting to force the operator to contribute to their pension fund—a move opposed by the board at the same time that Mabie is trying to gut the pensions of striking Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians. Mabie sits on both boards.

High turnover is a chronic issue at the schools, driven by systemic under-resourcing and poor wages and working conditions. Staff churn, which can be upwards of 20% per year or more at some schools, undermines students’ learning conditions and the stability of school communities.

Union charter workers want to reform these practices with these operators as part of an effort to reform the entire charter industry, which chronically undercuts investment in academic programs and student supports while expanding bloated bureaucracies, inflating executive salaries and shunting education dollars into high management fees.

While this number could grow, the schools announcing a strike date include:

  • IHSCA, the Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy, which serves more than 700 high school students. City Colleges chancellor Juan Salgado had oversight of IHSCA and Instituto’s other school programs and civic projects, yet failed to ensure that public dollars went into classrooms instead of Instituto’s management expansion and fee structure for ‘managing’ its school portfolio.
  • IHSCA is bargaining a joint contract with another small Instituto-controlled school, IJLA, the Instituto Justice Leadership Academy. The school serves just under 100 students aged 17-21 who previously left school and are seeking a high school diploma.  Both schools are ovewhelmingly low-income and Latinx, with high percentages of limited English-speaking students.
  • ChiArts, where more than 40 teachers are fighting for more classroom resources, and contributions to their pension fund. Management at the publicly funded selective enrollment school of 600 students has refused. Wealthy investment banker and ChiArts’ co-founder Jim Mabie is also treasurer of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s board, where he and his fellow board members are fighting to cancel the pensions of the orchestra’s striking world class musicians, even though moving musicians into a ‘defined contributions’ style plan would be more expensive than the current pension plan.
  • Latino Youth High School, or LYHS, run by CMO—charter management organization—Pilsen Wellness Center (PWC), which has demanded a longer school day and school year plus reductions in contractual benefits, while rejecting the union’s demand for equal pay for equal work. The school’s 220 students, who suffer from high rates of trauma, are almost 90% Latinx and 10% Black.
  • YCLA—Youth Connection Leadership Academy—where CTU members are bargaining with charter operator YCCS, which, like many operators, has inflated executives positions while shortchanging spending on students’ academic needs. YCLA’s CEO earns almost $180,000 per year and the top deputy makes almost $160,000 per year, while some educators make barely a fifth of that. Management has drawn complaints that range from body-shaming to shortchanging special education students at the overwhelmingly Black, low-income school on Chicago’s South Side.