UNO charter school teachers vote to strike October 19 if they don't get a fair contract... First charter school strike in history...
Around 200 UNO teachers and allies rallied at the corner of 47th and Kildare Thursday evening, outside Veterans Campus, after 96% of UNO teachers voted to strike in a vote carried out Wednesday and Thursday. A total of 531 out of 532 bargaining unit members voted.
They set October 19th as their strike date –- which of course may see them on the picket lines alongside teachers from Chicago Public Schools. UNO teachers would be the first Charter Teachers in history to go on strike, according to Chris Baehrend, president of Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (ChiACTS), AFT Local 4343, the federation that represents charter teachers.
UNO teachers unionized in 2013, joining ChiACTS as its largest council; UNO teachers comprise about half of ChiACTS members. UNO, with 16 school "campuses", is the third largest charter operator in Chicago.
Bess Kuchenbacker, a representative of the UNO bargaining team, is a Case Manager and Special Education teacher at Torres Elementary school, one of the three UNO schools housed in the Veterans campus. Kuchenbacker highlighted the common points of their fight and that of CPS teachers. The main issue in bargaining is a pension pick-up, which UNO Schools wants to eliminate, pretending that it’s not a pay cut. Other issues include the long day at the schools –- 9 hours –- and a class size that is fixed at 32 for all classes, including elementary schools.
This reporter shadowed a teacher at Veterans Campus –- high school teachers teach six classes –- it is a long day. UNO schools also laid off Paras, support staff and counselors with virtually no notice at the beginning of the school year. Kuchenbacker said they are fighting to bring those people back.
Erica Stewart is a teacher at Sandra Cisneros and the Media Contact for the Union of Educators at UNO Council (UEU). Stewart noted that UNO schools representatives have said “we’re running a business” several times during bargaining. Chicago charter schools are now facing the same kind of pressures that have forced cuts over the last six years in Chicago Public Schools.
Kuchenbacker highlighted that the campus does not have sufficient facilities. One gymnasium serves all three schools. With a total student population over 1,800, students often take PhysEd in their regular classrooms. This reporter saw a Yoga class –- led by one of the counselors who was laid off this year –- conducted in the hallway. The playground is also not large enough to serve all the students who need access to it. And the cafeteria is insufficient.
“What happens to you affects us, and what happens to us affects you. We have the same kids! That’s why we can be in unity with CTU. Same communities, same groups of families. We care about what happens to you guys, and we hope you guys care about what happens to us.”
Chicago’s CPS teachers of course have every reason to support UNO teachers fight. And we may soon have an opportunity to show our solidarity.