Unionized charter school employees at 19 schools will take a strike authorization vote next week, union leaders said Wednesday evening, setting the stage for an historic strike if contracts terms aren’t reached.
This includes all 15 campuses in the Acero Schools charter network and 4 of 13 campuses in the Chicago International Charter Schools network. The CICS campuses are ChicagoQuest North, Northtown, Wrightwood and Ralph Ellison. The Acero vote is set for Oct 30 while the CICS vote will be held Nov. 2.
“We’ve been bargaining for six months and I know our bargaining team is tired but more importantly I’ve been meeting with all of our members over the last couple of months and they are tired,” said Andy Crooks, president of the United Educators for Justice, which represents Acero schools. “We are getting tired of being told there is no money for art supplies, no money for music, there is no play spaces for some of our kids.”
In an attempt to flex their collective muscle, about 200 staff from unionized charter schools and the Chicago Teachers Union supporters showed up Wednesday outside Acero’s Fuentes Elementary charter school on the Northwest Side to announce the strike authorization vote dates. The announcement took place before a meeting of the board of directors for Acero Schools.
Officials from Acero, one of the city’s largest charter networks, said in a statement that they’ve worked “in earnest to reach an agreement that provides a reasonable and competitive compensation package to our teachers and staff, while maintaining the best possible educational outcomes for our students.”
Thirty-four of the city’s charter school campuses, which are publicly funded but privately managed, have unionized in recent years. That is about a third of Chicago’s 121 charter schools. The majority of those charters are simultaneously negotiating contracts to maximize their leverage. They also boosted their power earlier this year by merging with the Chicago Teachers Union.
CTU President Jesse Sharkey said union leaders presented their demands directly to charter operators this fall.
“Today we are talking about CICS and we are talking about Acero, but really it’s all the unionized charters [that] are seeing their contracts expired,” Sharkey said.. “The issues in these schools are not so different [from] the issues in any Chicago public school if you’ve been paying attention.”
Union members want higher salaries, better working conditions, improved health insurance packages, smaller class size, and what they describe as an adequate investment in special education services. But Sharkey and other union leaders said no school is close to getting what it wants. Other unionized charter schools are in earlier stages of the bargaining process.
“A strike authorization vote is the power to strike if they deem it necessary,” said Mihir Garud of the Chicago Teachers Union charter division.“ Things don’t really get moving until this level of seriousness is taken.”
If an agreement is not reached, union leaders have vowed to hit the picket line. This would be the country’s first charter union strike.
In a written statement, Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, said INCS is disappointed by the union’s decision to call strike authorization votes. “The charter movement was founded on the principle that students need additional educational opportunities and a strike would do nothing to further such opportunity,” Broy said.
He adds the CTU is mistakenly claiming that public charter schools receive 8 percent more in funding than other district schools. Instead, he says, “charter public schools continue to be underfunded relative to other public schools.”
The Chicago Teachers Union has accused charter operators of spending extravagant amounts on management fees and executive salaries. That money would be better spent on students, the union said.
Adriana Cardona-Maguigad covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @AdrianaCardMag.