UNO teachers, support staff vote overwhelmingly to strike

UNO teachers, support staff could walk out as early as October 19 in what would be first strike against charter schools or charter networks in U.S. history.

Press contacts: Erica Stewart, ericac.stewart@gmail.com, 773-332-6513; Chris Geovanis, chrisgeovanis@gmail.com, 312-446-4939

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“We don’t want to strike -- but we will if we must to protect the quality of education for our kids,” say union teachers, support staff, who are battling a management contract proposal that could increase class sizes, hurt classroom conditions“We’re defending great public schools and our students against unnecessary cuts.”

CHICAGO, October 6, 2016: Not even a torrential downpour could deter the parents, students, teachers and support staff from UNO’s charter school network, who gathered late this afternoon to send their schools’ management a clear message: union workers will strike if they must to preserve quality education in the classroom and safeguard workers’ economic security.

The vote was nearly unanimous, with 531 of 532 members of UNO’s unionized workforce voting, and 96% of those ballots -- a total of 508 -- cast in favor of striking if workers cannot come to a fair agreement with management. UEU -- the United Educators of UNO, the union representig UNO workers --  has set October 19 for a walkout. A strike by UEU would be the first in U.S. history of a charter school or charter network.

UEU members and their supporters plan to picket UNO’s central offices at 209 W. Jackson Blvd. in Chicago next week to ratchet up pressure on management if they do not yet have a contract.

“We took this historic vote to show management that we are willing to go to great lengths to insure that our students have the best opportunities for a great education,” said Erica Stewart, a 5th grade teacher at UNO’s Sandra Cisneros Charter School and a member of the bargaining team. “Our members have overwhelmingly voted to send a strong message to management that they need to step up and do the right thing for our kids and our schools. Now it’s management’s turn to show their dedication to the employees they claim to value -- and the students whose lives are in their hands.”

UEU, which represents teachers and support staff in Chicago’s 16-school UNO Charter School Network, has been bargaining with management from UCSN -- the UNO Charter School Network -- for more than seven months. The two sides remain far apart on issues that include limits on class size and management’s demand for giveaways from union support staff and teachers. More than a hundred parents and students joined UEU members on Thursday at UNO’s Veterans Memorial Campus in the Archer Heights neighborhood, where they stepped up their calls to management to abandon plans for further cuts to a system that is already reeling from a wave of layoffs this August.

UEU hopes to avoid a strike -- but say they will walk out if management continues to demand concessions that threaten workers’ economic security and undermine conditions for students in the classroom, including the potential to increase class size.

“This year management took away graduate support and our technology teachers without any notice whatsoever,” says parent Rosario Ayala, whose child attends UCSN SPC Daniel Zizumbo elementary school at 47th and Kildare in Chicago’s Archer Heights neighborhood. “Then we parents learn that management wants to cut our teachers’ salaries and benefits while possibly adding more kids to the already full classrooms. The teachers deserve a fair contract and our kids deserve responsible class sizes. It’s time for management to work with our teachers and parents -- as parents, we have the right to have a voice in our children's education!”

Management at UCSN wants to cut total teacher pay by over $500,000 per year by revamping teachers’ step schedules, deny teachers’ cost of living increases for two years, and deny support staff either cost of living or step increases for 2016-17 -- and only 1% raises for 2017-18. Management also is demanding the right to reopen the workers’ contract for further cuts in 2017-18 if the network’s budget is reduced, raise the contributions that all UCSN staff must pay for insurance, and force all UCSN staff to pay 3% more of their salaries to maintain the same level of pension benefits, resulting in substantial cuts to take-home pay.

Union members note that private employers pay into social security for their workers -- and that management’s proposed cuts in pension contributions alone for union workers who are not covered by Social Security represent an abandonment of this fundamental American partnership between workers and employers. And union members argue that management’s refusal to guarantee protections for critical conditions like classroom size threaten the quality of education for UNO students.

UNO’s network of 15 publicly-funded, privately-managed elementary and high schools pink-slipped 29 people this August -- more than 5% of the union workforce -- and eliminated five vacant positions. Among the eliminated positions are all of the school network’s technology teachers, who helped students with computers and electronic learning -- a particularly critical function given the schools’ lack of libraries and parallel reliance on computers as critical tools for learning and study. Remaining teachers are now shouldering the workload of those laid off technology teachers.

UNO also laid off all of its career counselors -- part of the bargaining unit known as PSRP’s, or “paraprofessionals and school related personnel” -- who were tasked with helping students apply to the CPS system’s top high schools and plan for college, from applications to financial aid.

Parents rely on support staff and teachers to help students thrive in UNO’s classrooms, while UNO managers make top dollar -- and have announced no cuts in management salary or benefits. That rankles parents and union members, who note that while UCSN’s budget was cut by CPS this year, that shortfall was largely made up by payments from its parent organization.

“The reality is that management has the money to fairly compensate our union workers and protect conditions in the classrooms -- and has chosen not to,” says Chris Baehrend, President of Chicago ACTS Local 4343, the parent union that represents UNO teachers and support staff. “This is a struggle to defend great public schools and our students against unnecessary cuts -- and our members are united in our commitment to that mission, even if it means we have to hit the picket line to protect our kids.”

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The United Educators of UNO (UEU) is a council of the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers Staff (ChiACTS) and affiliated with Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers.

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