Passages Charter School Teachers Reach Tentative Agreement Narrowly Averting First Charter Strike in U.S. History


Passages Charter School
Passages Charter School

Management makes major concessions on issues related to fair pay, classroom conditions, teachers voice over life of proposed three-year agreement.

CHICAGO—(ENEWSPF)–May 25, 2017. Union educators at Passages Charter School signed off on a tentative agreement Wednesday night for their first contract since unionizing a year ago — narrowly averting what would have been the first strike of a charter operator in U.S. history.

“Had we not unionized, we could never have gotten to this tentative agreement tonight — and taken such strong steps to begin to improve classroom conditions and win fair pay for our members,” said Gina Mengarelli, a member of Passages’ ChiACTS bargaining team. “We’re so grateful for the overwhelming support we have received over the course of the past year from our students’ families, the community, and the labor movement. There is nothing more important to us than our students, and we’re glad that we have been able to make progress on improving our school in ways that will produce tangible benefits for our students. We look forward to working with AHS to make sure that the school is able to provide the best education possible to the children and families we serve. And we look forward to being in class with our students on Thursday!”

Passages’ union educators — who work longer days for less pay than the vast majority of educators at Chicago’s other charter schools — won major concessions from management, including in wages for teachers, a third of whom currently earn less than $40,000 for a work week that can top 60 hours.

Based on salaries at the end of 2016, and for the life of the three-year contract, salaries for union educators will go up an average of 21.5% and a median of 19%, with the lowest-paid educators — some of whom earn less than $25,000 per year — looking at increases of over 40%

The tentative agreement also makes major strides in critical non-economic issues, including increasing teacher voice in decisions that affect students, providing safe and healthy working and learning conditions, and putting in place a fair and collaborative teacher evaluation system. Class size limits are held to 28 students, and the agreement includes language that provides for more meaningful prep time for teachers.

In the coming days, the union’s bargaining team will be presenting the tentative agreement to its membership, with discussion and a vote on ratification to follow in the coming weeks.

Key sticking points before Wednesday night’s marathon bargaining session included management’s persistent opposition to greater financial transparency, insufficient resources to support classrooms, and wage proposals that consistently failed to address rock-bottom wages for teachers and other front-line workers — including management’s proposal to tie modest wage increases to layoffs of  more than 10% of union staff. Among management’s proposed layoffs: the school’s only counselor, whose portfolio ranges from emotional support for students to helping young people apply for high school.

“These brave teachers have fought for and now won a contract that will make critical improvements in their school,” said Chris Baehrend, president of the Passages’ educators’ union, ChiACTS Local 4343. “These teachers have also built power for charter teachers nationwide, teaching by example, that when teachers exercise their collective power as a union, they can do even more for their students. This is a strong contract — and a strong contract makes a school better, which helps students attain the brighter futures that we know they are capable of.”

This was the third strike authorization of ChiACTS members in the last seven months. “Our educators at charter schools are servants of the public and their students, not the private businesses that cut our paychecks — and too often cut our budgets — while maintaining high management salaries,” said Baehrend. “Unions are the solution to the problem of our tax dollars being privatized by management companies, while our students’ educational needs get a lower priority. That’s why unions will continue to grow and assert their voices in charter schools. Our union is the democratic voice for our teachers and, as our teachers’ voice, in daily cooperation with students and parents, speaks for our schools.”

Passages was one of the first charter schools created in Chicago, and today serves just under 500 students—including a large population of immigrant and refugee students of Asian and African heritage. The school’s 46 union educators — teachers, teachers assistants and paraprofessionals — were certified last April as members of ChiACTS Local 4343, which represents 32 charter schools in Chicago. The school’s educators began negotiating for a new contract in May of 2016.

Source: ChiACTS Local 4343

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