Teachers at one of Chicago’s largest charter school networks are scheduled to take a strike authorization vote Wednesday and Thursday.
Key sticking points in negotiations include salaries, especially for support staff, health care costs, pension contributions and the length of the school day and school year.
Teachers and staff represented by the United Educators at UNO will vote via secret ballots at their schools, according to a memo sent to members Friday.
The union has been in negotiations with the UNO Charter School Network for seven months.
“Everybody’s tired and nobody wants to take all of the network out on strike,” said Erica Stewart, a member of the United Educators at UNO bargaining team. “It’s just a matter of are you going to push us to this point where it’s absolutely necessary.”
The Chicago Board of Education allocates money to charter schools, like UNO, which are privately-run, publicly-funded schools. Teachers at public charter schools are not part of the Chicago Teachers Union, and most are not unionized.
But UNO staff unionized in 2013 and their first three-year contract was set to expire at the start of this school year. Both sides had agreed to extend the contract until Monday. Last Friday, both sides agreed to another extension through Oct. 9.
In August, the network laid off 26 people after the school board released a slightly smaller operating budget. Network officials have said funding from CPS was cut $5.7 million over the summer.
In 2015-2016, the charter school network got about $62 million to educate more than 8,000 students in 15 schools.
On Friday, an email from the United Educators at UNO to its members set the dates for the strike vote.
“In the past two weeks, UCSN has shown considerable movement though we remain far enough apart to force the bargaining team to conduct a Strike Authorization Vote,” the email read. “By passing this vote, UCSN will understand that its staff won’t accept more cuts in our classrooms that hurt students, teachers, and families.”
A representative for the UNO Charter School Network could not immediately be reached for comment. But Richard Rodriguez, the CEO of UCSN, has been posting weekly updates in English and Spanish for parents and the public.
“It is UCSN’s position that there is no need for a strike, as teachers received their salary raises for this current school year in August 2016, and UCSN continues to negotiate in good faith on these and any/all pending matters,” Rodriguez wrote in the two most recent letters.
The vote this week does not mean a strike at UNO schools will definitely happen. If it does, it won’t happen at the same time as the Chicago Teachers Union, which is threatening to go on strike Oct. 11. UNO schools already have a fall break scheduled next week.
UNO’s bargaining team has been working with CTU staff to help during their negotiations.
Corrections Oct. 4, 2016 10:55 A.M.
A previous version of this story identified the United Educators at UNO incorrectly as the Union Educators at UNO. That version of the story also incorrectly indicated that the United Educators at UNO hired CTU staff to assist during negotiations.
Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. Follow her at @wbezeducation.