Workers don’t want to strike -- but will if they must to protect caps on classroom size, avoid cuts in pay and benefits and ensure protections for quality of education in classrooms.
UNO Charter School Network strike would be first in nation against charter schools or charter system.
CHICAGO, October 17, 2016: Two days of bargaining remain before the strike deadline for one of Chicago’s largest charter school networks -- with management silent over the weekend in addressing union workers’ ongoing concerns.
Management has consistently cried poor in pushing proposals that would cut real income and benefits for teachers and support staff -- including a pension ‘pick-up’ that parallels that pushed by CPS, which provides the UNO Charter School Network with the bulk of its public dollars to educate roughly 8,000 students at UNO’s fifteen campuses.
That represents an about-face from UNO’s original mission to safeguard the publicly funded education of low-income Latino children. In 1987, when UNO was still a grassroots community group that fought for the betterment of working class residents and their children, the organization marched 300 strong on CPS headquarters IN SUPPORT of public schoolteachers’ battle to keep class sizes down, safeguard their economic security and protect the quality of education for students. Today, union members say, UNO Charter School Network instead is “broke on purpose” -- playing a financial shell game rather than being honest about their finances, much like the shady dealings of its disgraced parent UNO.
Members of UEU -- United Educators of UNO -- who are locked in a contract dispute with the charter school network, point out that UNO pays its school CEO $250,000 per year -- the same as the CEO of CPS, who oversees a school system with fifty times more students. UNCS spends more than $1.3 million on salaries for its top 8 executives. And UNCS spends more than $30,000 a month on prime downtown real estate for its central offices near Chicago’s financial corridor, miles away from the network’s schools and their overwhelmingly low-income students; that’s as much or more in rent for those plush downtown offices as UCSN pays in rent for 11 of its 15 campuses.
In addition, teachers have already proposed a restructuring of their salary schedule that will save UCSN over $500,000 per year, but UNO persists in demanding reductions in pay for the lowest paid employees and that all staff take a 3% pay cut in the form of higher pension contributions in order to retain the same retirement benefit. UCSN also refuses to guarantee the wages and benefits being negotiated into the contract, seeking instead the right to reduce wages and benefits even further in the second contract year.
Also, the charter school network’s divorce from its scandal-plagued parent is saving UCSN millions -- including $1.8 million in management and administrative fees it formerly paid to UNO, and savings of $2.4 million a year management will realize as it recovers properties from UNO. Those savings alone could more than offset reductions in CPS funding and allow UCSN to afford a fair contract for its employees.
UEU members charge that management has failed for months to bargain to avoid a strike, sought to pit teachers against fellow union members who work as support staff -- and management is not yet in agreement with the union in terms of sufficient protections for class sizes. The union and management return to the bargaining table tonight, and are expected to bargain all day Tuesday, as well. If no agreement is reached by midnight, Tuesday, workers will be on the picket line at all UNO schools Wednesday morning. Earlier this month, more than 95% of UEU’s members voted to strike on October 19.
UNO’s network of 15 publicly-funded, privately-managed elementary and high schools eliminated 29 positions in August 2016 -- more than 5% of the union workforce -- and cut an additional five vacant positions. Those eliminated positions include technology teachers, who help students with computers and electronic learning, and all graduate support advisors, who provided academic counseling and helped students apply to top high schools in Chicago’s public school system, as well as apply to and garner financial aid for college. Management has been mum on cutting their own salaries or benefits. That double standard angers parents and union members, who charge that while UCSN’s budget was cut by CPS this year, that shortfall was largely made up by payments from USCN’s parent organization, UNO.
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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.