Sisters and brothers:
We have come to the end of a school year like no other. This year has been full of struggle, heartbreak, triumph and dedication. We have worked our tails off. Together, we’ve fought for our students and families and won unprecedented rights. We won them not only for our members but for the people of this city.
We’re still fighting
Right now, we are supporting more than 400 CTU family members laid off from both District-run and charter schools this month. CPS laid off these dedicated educators despite receiving an additional $1.8 billion expressly to PREVENT disastrous outcomes like layoffs. Of course we’re fighting these layoffs — just as we successfully fought off the closure of THREE schools in North Lawndale last December — in a pandemic. These members spoke out at yesterday’s board meeting, and in a powerful press conference Wednesday morning. Please share their stories — and watch for more information as we fight to battle these illegitimate layoffs.
What. A. Year. As we reflect on this last year, recall where we’ve come from, what we’ve achieved, and what we continue to pursue in our fight for the schools our students deserve.
Even before we returned to work, our rank and file members organized last summer with our LSCs to correct CPS priorities for safety. They urged CPS to redirect funding away from punitive policing and into student social-emotional supports and academic needs instead. That unprecedented level of LSC activism has helped spark ongoing engagement with parents and students in this critical space. This is particularly relevant as Chicago and the nation grapple with the effort to undo generations of racism and white supremacy.
Then the school year began with a fight to protect our school clerks and tech coordinators. CPS illegally forced them back into buildings — despite a binding arbitration ruling that allowed them to work remotely. When the mayor and her hand-picked CPS board tried to force elementary teachers, pre-K and SPEd clusters back to school without safety protocols in place, members at Brentano took their teaching outside their building in the bitter cold to protest unsafe working conditions. That act of defiance sparked a movement across schools in our district — and across the nation — in the fight for a safe return to school buildings. When high school teachers began returning to in-person learning this spring, we returned with an agreement built on our elementary school MOA that landed unprecedented protections for educators, students and their families.
Be clear: Your advocacy and your determination set an important precedent. Educators across the country have looked to the basic safety standards you won as a model for how to operate safely in a global pandemic. You raised equity issues that the mayor’s CPS team cannot ignore.
Your commitment over the long haul gave us the support we needed this legislative session to at last win back our bargaining rights in Springfield. That victory was the culmination of a quarter century of struggle to level the playing field in bargaining with CPS. Today, we await the anticipated full passage of a bill that will at last give Chicagoans what every other resident in the state has: an elected, representative school board.
We’ve also made critical gains in the charter space, and educators continue to reach out to us from non-union charters to organize with us at their schools. This year, educators at schools that include Association House and Christopher House won their fights to join the CTU. We leveraged important wins on safety at Acero, CICS, Latino Youth, Passages and other charters that helped set the bar for safety standards with CPS. And we landed hard-won first contracts at Epic and Urban Prep, where members staged a short but amazing strike at the end of the school year to land a deal.
Through all of this, it was the activism, sacrifice and hard work of rank and file members that turned our demands into action. This February, we mourned the loss of our beloved President Emerita Karen Lewis. Through our fights, we looked to her example and her courage to help us stand up for our students and school communities — despite lock-outs, docked pay and endless threats from the boss.
Summer doesn’t stop us
This very week, we expect to start bargaining a new agreement to reopen schools this fall. At the same time that we’re advocating for our laid off members, we’re also fighting CPS in its refusal to provide $5 million in contractually guaranteed supports for student athletics. Our Summer Organizing Institute will bring members into the campaign for actual stakeholders to decide how incoming COVID relief funds will be spent. Our voices will be essential to ensure that those funds get to the students and families who have been most harmed by COVID and most need support.
Our work on safety committees continues. At the bargaining table we continue advocating for hard targets for student and family vaccinations, strong ventilation protocols, and other safety standards that will protect educators and schoolchildren from dangerous COVID variants like Delta this fall. As always, our rank and file members anchor our Union’s work. So look for communication from us throughout the summer that will seek your input, guidance and expertise.
A Joyful Summer
Most importantly, we want to wish you a good summer. May it be filled with rest, restoration, serenity and joy. We have been through so much in the last year. Above it all, we have stood together, in unity, for the safety and wellbeing of every rank and file member and the students and families we serve. Our unity and our solidarity anchors every victory and success we’ve had this last year. It will carry us forward as we continue to fight for the schools our students deserve.
Jesse Sharkey, President
Stacy Davis Gates, Vice President
Maria Moreno, Financial Secretary
Christel Williams, Recording Secretary
Chris Baehrend, ACTS division chair