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Teachers, support staff will walk out after end of school day on May 1 if demands for living wages, adequate student supports, pension rights, protections for immigrant and diverse learners are not met. View livestream of press conference at this link.

CHICAGO—CTU members at as many as ten more charter schools could be on the picket lines on May Day—what would be the third CTU strike against charter operators this school year.

This would be the first multi-employer charter strike in U.S. history.

CTU educators announced their strike date in a joint press conference with City Colleges clerks and technical workers in AFT/IFT Local 1708, who have been without a contract for almost three years. Local 1708 workers will hit the picket lines the morning of May Day—International Workers’ Day—if no agreement is reached.

Charter educators at five schools will declare a formal strike on May Day, after the formal end of the school day, if they have not settled contracts with operators. And more charter schools could strike around that date, as well. CTU members at four Aspira schools voted overwhelmingly to strike this week.

“As teachers, our charge in society is to unlock the human potential of the next generation of our society and our youth, and we take that job very seriously,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey. “But we cannot do that job if there are no resources for our classrooms, no supports for our students, or no dignity for educators. If we have to strike to improve learning conditions for our students and wages and working conditions for our educators, we will be on the picket lines in a week.”

City College workers share a common target with workers at two Instituto Progresso del Latino charter schools that could strike in May. City Colleges chancellor Juan Salgado ran Instituto from 2001 until he was appointed head of City Colleges two years ago by outgoing Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel. Yet despite Salgado’s professed support for economic justice, City Colleges clerks work for poverty wages, just as Salgado and his chosen Instituto successors chronically low-ball wages for educators at their charter schools.

Charter operators across the city chronically steer public education dollars away from classroom needs into management salaries and non-education spending.

“For too long, charter operators have viewed public education dollars as a tool to enrich themselves, their bloated bureaucracies and their insider charter ‘management’ operations, while our students suffer the consequences in gutted resources, overcrowded classrooms and reduced supports,” said CTU charter division chair Chris Baehrend. “That’s got to end.”

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. That number could grow if the Aspira schools’ 107 members strike. 93 percent of the Aspira educators who voted this week supported authorizing a strike.

“Management’s bottom line is about lining their pockets, not supporting students,” said Linda Zaia of Youth Connections Leadership Academy. “At the bargaining table, management has refused to address the need for student safety, restorative justice, special education services, counselors, therapists or any other student needs. Our management makes $3.4 million dollars a year, while we have members making less than $40,000 a year. That’s wrong.”

CTU members are demanding contract language that guarantees federally mandated services for special education students; more support for English language learners and immigrant students; adequate staffing and resources for schools with serious shortages of both; and equal pay for equal work with CPS colleagues, who teach the same students for better wages and working conditions.

Chronic under-resourcing, poor working conditions and low wages—which can be as little as 40% of what CPS pays comparable workers—drives high turnover and tremendous instability at charters. Working conditions can be so bad that staff churn can average 20% per year or more at some schools, undermining learning conditions and desperately needed support for students.

“We have an obligation to raise the question of what’s right, not just for ourselves as workers, but for the entire working class in the city of Chicago—because that’s who sends their kids to public schools” said Sharkey. “We’re going to do what’s right—we’re going to demand resources for our schools, decent teaching and learning conditions in our classrooms, we’re going to bargain hard—and if we can’t get what’s right at the bargaining table, we’re going to take our fight for justice to the picket line.”

ChiArts teachers are also battling to force the operator to contribute to their pension fund. School cofounder and wealthy investment banker Jim Mabie, who sits on both the ChiArts and CSO boards, opposes pension payments along with other ChiArts board members. Mabie is trying to eliminate the pensions of striking Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians, as well.

Union charter workers are fighting to reform both the targeted operators and the larger charter industry. Operators across the nation, like these operators, have a long history of siphoning off public education dollars from academic programs and student supports to bankroll bloated bureaucracies, inflated executive salaries and exorbitant management fees.

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

  • IHSCA, the Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy. During his tenure at Instituto, Salgado allowed the shunting of public dollars into Instituto management fees.
  • IJLA, the Instituto Justice Leadership Academy, serving students aged 17-21 who previously left school and are seeking a high school diploma.  Both Instituto schools are overwhelmingly low-income, Latinx, and have high percentages of limited English-speaking students.
  • ChiArts, where teachers are fighting for classroom resources and pensions. Management at the publicly funded selective enrollment school has refused. Co-founder Mabie is also treasurer of the CSO board, which is seeking to cancel the pensions of striking world class musicians, even though moving to a ‘defined contributions’ style plan would be more costly than musicians’ current pension plan.
  • Latino Youth High School, or LYHS, run by charter management organization Pilsen Wellness Center (PWC), which is demanding a longer school day and school year plus cuts in contractual benefits, while rejecting workers’ demand for equal pay for equal work. The school’s almost 90% Latinx and 10% Black students suffer from high rates of trauma.
  • YCLA—Youth Connection Leadership Academy—run by charter operator YCCS, which has inflated executives positions and shortchanged 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.

Four Aspira schools—Haugen, Pantoja, Business & Finance HS and Early College HS, which together enroll 1,400 students—serve an overwhelmingly Latinx, low-income student population. CTU members at those schools could announce a strike date any time after today.

The Chicago Teachers Union represents more than 25,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in Chicago Public Schools, and by extension, the nearly 400,000 students and families they serve. The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third-largest teachers local in the United States. For more information please visit the CTU website at www.ctulocal1.org.