Employees of the EPIC Academy charter school in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood today announced their intention to join the Chicago Teachers Union.
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Walk-out would be first strike of charter operator in U.S. history, as educators oppose CPS charter expansion and plan protest of leading charter lobby and cronies.
CHICAGO—UNO/Acero charter management has fought Chicago Teachers Union members at 15 charter schools for months in educators' struggle for more classroom resources and supports for students. Now, the CTU has set a Dec. 4, 2018, strike date for what would be the first strike of a charter operator in the nation's history.
CTU and UNO/Acero management remain far apart on core issues, as CTU members push for reform across the charter industry—including an end to operators' practice of siphoning millions of public dollars away from classrooms and into the pockets of executives and management companies.
"The union men and women here today have made it clear that they are prepared to fight for school communities that are fully funded, prioritize educational funding over CEO pay, and eliminate management fees that marginalize our classrooms and rob our students," CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said at a Nov. 13 press conference announcing the Dec. 4 strike date. “For too long, the charter industry has had the freedom to marginalize the workers in our schools, and the audacity to promise parents one thing while offering students and their families far less.”
More than 500 CTU teachers and paraprofessionals at UNO/Acero work longer days and school years than those in CPS-run public schools, for less pay than district educators, even though charter operators collect 8 percent more per student in funding than CPS schools.
“We're fighting to change the status quo through our right to bargain collectively, withhold our work and demand that education dollars actually make it into our school communities instead of being stolen away by top managers who devalue the cultural and educational needs of our students and the vital teachers and paraprofessionals who work tirelessly to educate and support them," Davis Gates said.
The CTU is demanding smaller class sizes; increased special education funding; more autonomy over curriculum and grading; equal pay for equal work; additional resources for classrooms and students; and better compensation and treatment of paraprofessionals, who work for low wages despite their essential role in school communities.
"Ninety-eight percent of our members voted to authorize a strike because our educators, our students and our school communities deserve better," said Andy Crooks, a special education paraprofessional who serves as council chair of the UNO/Acero bargaining unit. “We've held three negotiating sessions since our strike vote, and we've seen no progress—not in the way our work day is structured, not in compensation so we can retain our educators and not lose them each year to other districts or the profession altogether, not in culturally relevant curriculum, adequate staffing for our students with special needs, or smaller class size so our students can have more direct instruction.”
“Acero has told us at the bargaining table that it's about their bottom line and not our students, and that is unacceptable,” Crooks added. “We have been making this case at the bargaining table for six months, and if we have to on Dec. 4, we will take this fight to the streets, because at the end of the day our students and their families are our number one priority—not a line item in management's budget."
The CTU is also demanding true sanctuary schools for UNO/Acero's overwhelmingly Latinx students and more diversity in the workforce, which has few Latinx or Spanish-speaking teachers. Management can remedy this by providing paraprofessionals—referred to as “apprentices” by management—with a supportive path to the role of classroom teacher, and making a concerted effort to hire more teachers of color.
UNO/Acero CEO Richard Rodriguez makes over $260,000 a year to manage 15 schools with 8,000 students, a higher salary than what CPS CEO Janice Jackson earns to manage a system of over 500 schools and hundreds of thousands of students.