Teachers, support workers reach tentative agreement with UNO charter school network, averting first strike of charter operator in U.S. history

CHICAGO: One of Chicago’s largest charter school operators narrowly averted what would have been the first strike of a charter school operator in the nation. Bargaining team members from UEU -- United Educators of UNO -- came to a tentative agreement with the UNO Charter School Network -- at just after 3AM Wednesday -- three hours after the strike deadline. The union and management will meet again Thursday to work out some minor details, and the tentative agreement will then go to the full membership for approval.

AFT President Randi Weingarten joined UEU members at the bargaining table Tuesday afternoon, and UEU members credited her effectiveness as an advocate in helping set the stage for the two parties to ultimately avert a strike.

“We’ve said repeatedly that we didn’t want to strike, but we would if that was what it took to protect the quality of education in our classrooms,” said 5th grade teacher and union spokesperson Erica Stewart. “We had a tremendous bargaining team and a huge amount of solidarity from our own union, our sister unions, allies across the city and nation, and the leader of our parent union, the American Federation of Teachers. That groundswell of solidarity and support helped us shape an agreement with terms that allow our teachers and support staff to continue to nurture the educational success of our students.”

A strike would have been the first against a charter school operator in the nation’s history. On October 6, UEU announced the results of its strike vote, with over 95% of the membership of 532 voting to support a strike.

“The AFT congratulates the educators at UNO charter schools on standing strong and negotiating a hard-won tentative agreement,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “I was at the bargaining table on Tuesday and the educators’ message was clear – they would do whatever it took to ensure stability and to safeguard quality of education for their kids. While the agreement is still to be ratified and some details hammered out, the bargaining team believes it addresses the key concerns of class size, pay for paraprofessionals and support staff, contract length and pensions. A strike would have been the first in US charter school history, but the issues for educators everywhere are the same – a secure future for teaching and learning in a workplace built on mutual respect. In the early hours of this morning, UNO educators made great strides in achieving exactly that."

Management agreed to continue to provide a 7% pension pickup for current employees. New hires will receive a 7% pay increase for FY18 to base salary with zero pension pickup by the employer, similar to terms the CTU recently agreed to with Chicago's public school system. Teachers and support staff -- who currently work in one of the longest school schedules in the region -- will see a slight reduction in the number of workdays and instructional days per year.

The parties also agreed to a joint committee to make recommendations as to economic conditions based on funding shortfalls for the publicly funded school network -- an important point for the union, which has struggled to receive clear and comprehensive financial information from management.

“This is an historic agreement and an important marker of what is possible for charter school educators, students and families,” said Chris Baehrend, president of UEU’s parent union Chicago ACTS, the Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff. “This effort was built around our core commitment to ensuring that our students and the rank and file educators and support staff who work with them have the resources and the classroom conditions that will help our kids thrive.” 

Close to 8,000 overwhelmingly low-income Latino students attend schools in Chicago’s publicly funded, privately run 15-school UNO Charter School Network, which has been bargaining with UEU’s teachers and support staff for almost eight months. UEU argued repeatedly that, while their workers hoped to avoid a strike, they would reject management demands for concessions that threatened workers’ economic security and undermined conditions for students in the classroom in a system that is also reeling from staffing shortages driven by mass layoffs in August.

“We’re proud that these charter teachers and staff were able to bargain effectively and create an agreement that safeguards a high quality of education,” said Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery. “Strong staffs lead to strong schools, and the United Educators of UNO's ability to advocate for their students with a collective voice has greatly benefited teaching and learning in their communities."

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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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