Charter school teachers remain in contract battle, could strike next week
Adrian Segura, staff member at the Noble Network of Charter Schools, chants with a group of supporters during a protest held outside of the Chicago Public Schools headquarters on Oct. 6, 2016. Chicago charter schools advocates gathered to protest a provision that would cap the number of charter schools in the city under a contract with the Chicago Teachers Union.
(Alyssa Pointer / Chicago Tribune)
zens of educators rallied outside the UNO Charter School Network's downtown headquarters Thursday to call attention to a threatened strike that could halt classes for about 8,000 students.
Three days after the Chicago Teachers Union called off its threat of a strike after reaching a tentative agreement with Chicago Public Schools, the charter teachers remain in a contract fight with operators of one the city's biggest independently run charter school networks.
Teachers were scheduled for a Thursday evening bargaining session with the UNO Charter School Network, or UCSN, which like other charters falls under CPS but is not directly run by the district. The charter networks' unionized teachers are moving ahead with plans to strike Wednesday if they can't land a deal by then.
The UCSN said Thursday that if teachers walk off the job, the charter's school buildings would close and extracurricular activities would be canceled.
Stumbling blocks to a new contract are similar to those in the CTU's recent high-stakes battle with the city, including calls to maintain a practice of the school system paying the bulk of teacher pension contributions. The charter union also wants to impose limits on class sizes.
"We're still looking at the compensation and pension pickup issues, which stand to cause our members to take a pay cut on their paychecks," said Erica Stewart, a bargaining unit spokeswoman who helped organize the charter's union and teaches fifth grade at a school in the Brighton Park neighborhood.
The demonstration Thursday was "to get them to realize that we need to work together for a quality education for our students," Stewart said.
The charter network, which endured a messy split with the politically connected United Neighborhood Organization, pointed to its finances as an issue in coming to terms on a new contract.
"Unlike CPS, UCSN does not have access to TIF funds for additional revenue, so any agreement we reach has to be cognizant of our financial constraints," the charter network said in a statement Thursday, referring to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's sweep of tens of millions of dollars from tax increment financing districts to help finance CPS' pending deal with the CTU.
The United Educators of USCN are represented by a branch of the American Federation of Teachers that oversees unionized charter school teachers. Robert Bloch, a labor lawyer who also works with the CTU, is representing the charter teachers.
"UCSN is willing to continue negotiating even though the UEU and their contracted CTU representatives have declined UCSN's offer to extend the previous contract as well as our offer to have a federal mediator assist in negotiations to help bring this matter to a conclusion," the network said.
The potential for a walkout could upend the notion that charter schools are immune from labor strife.
"The city thought they were going to use the charter schools to break the unions, and it didn't work," Stewart said. "It's not working. We've got more charter schools that are coming on board all the time. That's a good thing, because it protects teachers, and when you protect teachers you protect students."