Educators had battled for months to vote by mail during pandemic over objections of management. Contact Eric Ruder for interviews with rank-and-file EPIC educators.
CHICAGO, July 1, 2020—The results are overwhelming: 90 percent of rank-and-file educators at EPIC charter school have voted to unionize and join the CTU. The results were tabulated remotely by the National Labor Relations Board, which ruled earlier this year that the charter operator could not force educators to vote in person during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are thrilled to finally be able to say we are now members of the Chicago Teachers Union,” said teacher Priscilla Dixon. “We’re excited to begin bargaining our first contract, where we’re pushing to bring our students class size caps, better working and learning conditions and teacher retention, all of which benefit our students. With all of today’s challenges — including contending with the consequences of a global pandemic, we need to do everything we can to ensure our students’ success.”
CTU President Jesse Sharkey echoed those sentiments. “We’re excited and honored to welcome EPIC educators into our union,” he said. “We’re also committed to bargaining a fair contract for those workers that protects student needs and respects the teachers, paraprofessionals and support staff who anchor this school community.”
The National Labor Relations Board counted today’s votes at 3:00 p.m., and has certified the 26-to-3 vote in favor of joining the CTU.
The school has been plagued by issues that pushed teachers and other school workers to seek union representation. The South Shore charter has historically confronted high rates of annual staff turnover and chronic understaffing of teachers qualified to serve EPIC’s large number of diverse learners. That chronic understaffing has dovetailed with low wages and poor working and learning conditions to undercut teacher retention and undermine learning for the school’s overwhelmingly low-income Black and Latinx students.
EPIC’s special education department has been hemorrhaging staff, and management has chronically failed to hire enough social workers, special ed teachers and English-language teachers. Management has assigned paraprofessionals without special education teaching certification to teach unstaffed classes, while high turnover destabilizes the school community.
More than 95 percent of EPIC’s students are low-income. Of the school’s nearly 500 students, almost 60 percent are Black, 37 percent are Latino, over 15 percent are English-language learners, and over 20 percent of students have special education needs.
EPIC has a new executive director who previously worked for Civitas Education Partners, a for-profit charter management organization created by and wholly owned by CICS—Chicago International Charter Schools—to run schools for that charter operator. CTU members at four Civitas-managed CICS schools struck CICS in 2019 for many of the same failed management strategies that EPIC educators confront. CICS itself is currently under fire for laying off staff during a pandemic even as it continues to hoard more than $30 million dollars in public education funds that CICS has refused to invest in classroom needs.
For more information about the union organizing drive at EPIC, go to www.ctulocal1.org/EPIC.