Strike would be first in nation against charter schools or charter system; Teachers, support staff reaffirm that they don’t want to strike — but will if that’s what it takes to protect quality of education for students
CHICAGO–(ENEWSPF)–October 13, 2016: Some of the city’s top education bureaucrats slunk out of their offices early — giving themselves paid time off rather than have to contend with picketing teachers, parents, support staff and students at management’s pricey downtown office digs.
That didn’t deter more than a hundred teachers, support staff and their supporters, who staged a boisterous picket line at 209 W. Jackson Blvd. near the heart of Chicago’s financial district to demand that management bargain in good faith — or face the first strike of a charter school or network in the nation’s history. Among those joining union educators were parents, students and neighborhood residents, plus allies from Arise Chicago and Jobs With Justice, and members of unions that include Actors Equity, UE — United Electrical Workers, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the AFT and the CTU.
“Our children have great teachers — and UNO administrators should be putting our kids first by supporting them,” said parent Guillermina Valdez, who spoke in Spanish. More than 90% of UCSN’s students are Latino — and they and their parents also want management to bring back more than 20 support staff and educators who were laid off in August, undercutting technology training in the classroom and gutting high school and college counseling for their kids.
“UNO’s top administrators earn six figures, while they want our school support staff to take a pay cut,” she said. “That’s not right, and it’s not good for our kids. Our teachers and support staff give their best to our children, and they deserve to be treated fairly.”
More than 500 union members of UEU — United Educators of UNO — voted overwhelmingly last Thursday to strike if workers cannot come to a fair agreement with management, and set October 19 for a walkout.
“As educators, there is nothing we care more about than our students,” said teacher Erica Stewart. “But the sad reality is that management thinks it’s more important to shell out a quarter of a million dollars a year for their fancy downtown office space than bargain fairly with us. The ball is in management’s court — either they’re going to get serious about supporting the employees they claim to value and the students whose educations are in their hands, or they’re going to force us to strike to protect the quality of education in our classrooms.”
UEU, which represents 532 teachers and support staff in Chicago’s 16-school UNO Charter School Network, has been bargaining with USCN management for over seven months, but the two sides remain far apart on issues that include limits on class size and management’s demand for giveaways that include a cut in real pay for support staff.
UCSN has continued to demand over $500,000 in salary cuts from union members — along with the right to reopen the workers’ contract for further cuts next year. Management also wants to raise the contributions that all UCSN staff must pay for insurance, and force all UCSN staff to pay 3% more of their salaries to maintain the same level of pension benefits, forcing substantial cuts to take-home pay. Management is also demanding the right to remove caps on class sizes, which parents and educators say are already capped high at 32 students per classroom. At the same time, UNO teachers work longer hours for more days — and less pay and benefits — than teachers in CPS.
UNO’s network of 15 publicly-funded, privately-managed elementary and high schools laid off 29 people in August 2016 — more than 5% of the union workforce — and cut five vacant positions. Those eliminated positions include technology teachers, who help students with computers and electronic learning — a crucial role for UNO schools, which lack libraries and rely on computers as critical tools for learning and study. Teachers are now shouldering the workload of those laid off workers.
UNO also pink-slipped all graduate support advisors — part of the bargaining unit known as PSRP’s, or “paraprofessionals and school related personnel” — who helped students apply to top high schools in Chicago’s public school system, as well as apply to and garner financial aid for college. At the same time, UNO’s managers — many of whom earn six figure incomes — have refused to cut their own salaries or benefits. That double standard angers parents and union members, who charge that while UCSN’s budget was cut by CPS this year, that shortfall was largely made up by payments from USCN’s parent organization.
“There is nothing we want more than to be in the classroom with our students,” said Andy Crooks, who works as a one-on-one aid to a special needs student at USCN’s Rogers Park campus and represents PSRP’s in the union. “But to be effective educators, we’ve got to protect conditions in our classrooms and the economic security of our members. If it takes a strike to do that, then we’re prepared to walk.”
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The United Educators of UNO (UEU) is a council of the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers Staff (ChiACTS) and affiliated with Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers.
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