Chicago may mark May Day — an international celebration of workers — with the start of several strikes.
Three privately run Chicago public schools with a combined staff of 110 could be on strike and walking the picket lines by Wednesday evening. In addition, 450 clerks and technical staff at City Colleges of Chicago are poised to strike.
If the teachers strike, Thursday would be the first day their 1,400 students would be out of school. The schools likely to strike are the Chicago High School For the Arts or ChiArts, Instituto Justice and Leadership Academy, and Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy.
In addition, four schools run by Aspira, another charter operator, and two small alternative charter schools are at the bargaining table. Union officials say they could call strikes in the coming days or weeks. Leaders from Youth Connection Leadership Academy, one of the alternative schools, issued a statement saying that a strike would be “particularly devastating” because the school is a “critical safety net” located “in one of the city’s most violent neighborhoods.” It said that three of its students have been shot and killed this year.
The schools where strikes are imminent say they are working on contingency plans for students. Instituto, which has its two campuses in Little Village, already had arranged for nearby Rauner YMCA to be open to students and for its non-unionized staff to be on hand.
ChiArts, in West Town, is instructing students they still must attend their afternoon arts classes, even if a strike occurs. ChiArts has a privately funded performing arts program, and its art teachers are not unionized.
The Chicago charter school landscape
Teacher strikes at charter schools are a relatively new occurrence. In early December, Chicago hosted the nation’s first, when teachers at Acero schools walked out. Since then, another group of Chicago charters went on strike, as well as a network in South Los Angeles. Chicago charter unions merged last year with the Chicago Teachers Union, and the larger union has been pushing to get charter schools to work together to maximize their leverage. Wednesday’s strike would be the nation’s first multi-employer strike, according to the CTU.
Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, the parent body of the CTU, plans to rally Wednesday with the teachers at the schools expected to strike.
The timing of the strikes is particularly bad for the charter schools. CPS and its charter schools are in the midst of a budget standoff over how much the school district should be paying them. CPS is withholding some of the money charter schools were expecting this year and have yet to release charter school budgets for next year.
Instituto officials say it is hard to negotiate in good faith without knowing how much funding they will eventually get.
While issues are slightly different at each network, charter teachers in general want better pay and benefits. They also have brought up issues around working conditions like class sizes and the quality of services provided to special education students.
In addition, they have been taking aim at how much is paid to the organizations that manage them.
Instituto teachers contend that management takes about 18% off the top or almost $1 million this year. But a spokeswoman for Instituto says these fees are in line with what is happening at other charter schools.
At ChiArts, the teachers are pushing to get management to contribute to the pension system on their behalf. Chicago Public Schools and charter schools pay into the pension system, but ChiArts is what’s known as a contract school. Like charter schools, they are privately run, but they don’t officially hold a charter and, instead, have a contract with CPS, as if they were providing a service.
Because of this technical difference, ChiArts management is not paying into the pension system, according to the union. ChiArts management did not return phone calls.
The clerks and technical staff at City Colleges say they don’t make a living wage and can’t afford to take sick days or pay for health insurance. If they strike, student services like financial aid could be affected.