Dear Union Siblings,
Welcome to the new school year, educators. I hope you had a restful and fun summer break and are revived and refreshed for the year ahead. If you’re like me when I was teaching, you’re excited to be back in your classrooms, to collaborate with your colleagues this week and to greet your students next week. This year, I hope members are extra excited to return to schools where educators now have more power than ever to make them sites of love and liberation.
As we start the year, I have some good news to report. Contrary to the right-wing narrative of parents in wild revolt against their schools, a recent Gallup poll found that the vast majority of parents support their schools. Think about that. In an age where we are told, on a daily basis, that our country is deeply divided, parents of all stripes, from left to right, agree on one thing — their children’s schools and teachers are doing a great job.
So, we begin this school year in a much better place than ever before because last year was one of the most successful, historic and transformational years in the history of our union and our city.
Look at what we accomplished together just since April:
- Mayor Brandon Johnson: We elected a union brother, a CPS teacher and public school parent mayor of Chicago. We now have a mayor who helped build our power and fashion our union’s vision for the schools Chicago students deserve. We have a mayor who is a partner in our work to transform our city, with CTU leaders like Jen Johnson and Ronnie Reese by his side, helping to chart a new course for Chicago and its schools.
- Paid Parental Leave: Months of member advocacy and the election of Major Johnson allowed us to negotiate for CPS employees to receive 12 weeks paid parental leave, after being unfairly denied this benefit under the previous administration. This is one of the most significant expansions of our members’ rights outside of “formal contract bargaining” and a huge step toward equity for CPS’ overwhelmingly female workforce and our majority female union.
- COVID Sick Days/Sick Bank: CPS came to the table to settle charges against the unfair tactics used to pressure and punish CTU members during our fight for a safe return to school. We secured five additional COVID sick days and the ability to bank two additional sick days next year at CPS.
- In Springfield: We passed a bill making it easier for educators working in charter schools to organize without employer interference and secured PSRP and teacher retirees increased ability to return as substitutes without risking their pensions.
- Grievance Settlements: Since April, our Grievance Department has settled a backlog of cases dating back to Rahm Emanuel’s administration, totaling almost $1 million in compensation for members whose rights in the workplace had been violated.
- Resident Teachers: New teachers in the CPS residency program are our newest members. We secured CTU membership and rapidly reached an agreement that increased pay, forgave loans and provided other benefits for resident teachers that can help the district address our teacher shortage.
- Class Size: Our joint class size committee provided class size relief in hundreds of classrooms, including the addition of 210 teacher positions and 144 teacher assistants. And we also authorized overtime classes at the high-school level and extended-day buckets providing additional paid prep time to teachers with student overloads.
- Charter Division: The first phase of our contract campaign has been coordinated across 14 organized charter school networks. We have already secured new contracts providing equal pay with district-run schools and groundbreaking new language on paraprofessional staffing, special education support, LGBTQIA+ protections, ELL resources and more. CTU members at other charter operators are continuing to fight to raise standards citywide and ensure that all schools are safe, equitable and sustainable places for students and their educators.
Beyond the benefits in our own backyard, we helped set a new standard by which unions across the country will be judged. We’ve shown that for the labor movement to grow and expand, it must align itself, as CTU has, with the broader struggles for racial, economic and social justice. And it must be waged in the streets as much as at the bargaining table.
These accomplishments are the platform under which we head into this year’s contract negotiations and the 2024 school board elections. We are in a position to finally realize the schools Chicago students deserve and elect school board members that will reflect and represent the students and families CPS serves.
We are in this position because we fired our boss and helped propel our union brother to the fifth floor. We did this with a grassroots movement — a movement of educators, clinicians, school staff, security guards, nurses, home health care workers, lunchroom staff, parents, students and community organizations. Our movement has given voice and agency to the working people of Chicago and to communities and neighborhoods that have been ignored for decades.
The families we serve understand that. They see how hard we work, always asked to do more with less and to solve the myriad social problems that impact our classrooms. We spend our own money to help clothe, feed and even house our students when families struggle. And this year, we are welcoming and supporting thousands of new families who’ve been mercilessly shipped to our city by far-right zealots in Texas and Florida.
In movements like ours, we often forget to take time to celebrate and acknowledge our victories. That’s especially true for women, whose energies often are more focused on caring for others rather than trumpeting their own achievements.
Because of your dedication, we look forward to a new, productive partnership with CPS this year, with a new board of education — one that, for the first time, centers the voices of students, parents, educators, clinicians and community members — and with our brother and mayor. Because of our solidarity, this year we have an opportunity to take the political power we won at the ballot box and in the state legislature and convert it into power in our school buildings.
If you haven’t felt powerful enough in years past to make needed change in your school community, this is the year. This is the year we exercise our rights and insist upon them. This is the year we implement productive, monthly Professional Problems Committee meetings with our principals. This is the year we elect advocates for quality curriculum to our Professional Personnel Leadership Committees. This is the year we turn power into progress.
That is our challenge in the coming year. Our fight for the schools our students deserve continues with our union brother on the fifth floor of City Hall. But for real, sustainable transformation of this city, we must continue organizing in our school buildings, our places of worship, our neighborhoods, at our block clubs and our dinner tables.
We know you are up for this challenge. We are so proud of all you have done to get us to this moment. Thank you for your faith in our solidarity, our leadership and in our vision for transforming our city.
Stacy Davis Gates