Nearly every union staff member at a charter school chain voted Wednesday to authorize a strike if negotiations remain stalled.
Ninety-nine percent of the staff at the four Aspira schools on the Northwest Side voted in favor of the strike. If the staff does walk, it would be the first charter school teacher strike in history.
The approximately 100 Aspira Charter School staff have been in negotiations since May. Union president Marines Martinez said no strike date has been set and stressed that Aspira employees do not want to walk out.
She said the goal is to send a message to administrators that they are serious.
The union is frustrated that the administration claims it is broke, she said, but refuses to provide proof that it lacks money.
“For the most part we are stuck on this one issue and it is transparency,” Martinez said. “Aspira is spending their money and we are not really sure how.”
But Aspira Board President Fernando Grillo said the two sides are mostly stuck on issues around compensation and the length of the contract.
Aspira has been hit by two rounds of CPS budget cuts, one last year and one just a few weeks ago. Yet Aspira did pay the contractually-obligated raises last year.
Aspira is offering small raises and a three- to five-year contract, Grillo said.
“We are ready and able to get this wrapped up,” he said.”A strike by our teachers is only going to harm the education of our kids. I want to tell you (we have) a lot of respect for our teachers and we are dedicated and committed to our teachers.”
Martinez counters that the union wants to see Aspira’s budget so it knows how much it can afford and whether the network is spending appropriately.
She said conditions in the schools makes the union suspicious that the money is being misspent. Schools aren’t cleaned regularly and bathrooms are not well stocked with toilet paper and hand soap, Martinez said.
“I honestly do not know the last time my classroom was cleaned,” she said.
Martinez also said it is frustrating that Aspira administrators keep leaving the organization, only to be replaced by new people in the negotiations.
About 1,500 students are enrolled in the four schools.
Aspira staff unionized in 2010. They were the second charter school group to do so in Chicago. Since then, a dozen others in Chicago have followed.
Earlier this year, UNO teachers almost went on strike, but were able to reach a contract deal just hours before teachers were set to go to the picket line.
Charter schools also had their budgets cuts by about 6 percent due to the overall deficit in the Chicago Public Schools.