Educators victorious in nation's first charter school strike

After four frigid days on the picket lines, Chicago Teachers Union members at 15 UNO/Acero charter schools across the city returned to school this morning victorious. More than 500 striking teachers and paraprofessionals suspended their historic strike Sunday morning, after all-night negotiations yielded a tentative agreement that includes pay equity with Chicago Public Schools teachers and paraprofessionals, reduced class sizes, sanctuary school protections and a career path for paraprofessionals. The strike—the first ever at a U.S. charter school network—received overwhelming support from parents and the community.

Martha Baumgarten, a fifth-grade teacher at Carlos Fuentes Elementary and a member of the CTU bargaining committee, said she and her colleagues are excited to get back to the work of educating: “We were able to secure the best possible agreement for students and staff, one that will provide more resources for our students, because of member activism and the solidarity of parents and staff.”

Chicago charter school strike
AFT President Randi Weingarten congratulated the strikers, the latest in a wave of educators across the country who have shown that solidarity has the power to transform schools and lives. “The educators at UNO/Acero saw that their union was the vehicle to help strengthen their students’ educational opportunities and help get equity and fairness for themselves and their colleagues,” said Weingarten. “When they couldn’t achieve it after seven months at the bargaining table, they took to the streets in the bitter cold and snow to strengthen their schools, and our union nationwide and the Chicago community stood with them.”

Weingarten also noted that the Chicago strike marked a sharp rejection of the charter school model that puts administrators and profits over students and educators: “The past week was an inspiring lesson in what unionism is all about: to achieve together what can’t be achieved alone—in this case, better teaching and learning conditions for their kids. When we join together to fight for our values, and those aspirations and values are just, we win. And the community wins.

“Whether it’s confronting a charter school network in Chicago, a school district in Los Angeles, or state governments in West Virginia, Oklahoma or Arizona, teachers around the country are coming together for their kids’ futures. And when they do, working people and the entire U.S. labor movement will have their backs.”

The AFT represents 7,500 members at 236 charter schools in 15 states and the District of Columbia. Since the summer of 2017, educators at 11 charter schools have joined the union.

CTU President Jesse Sharkey celebrated the tentative agreement as the culmination of more than a decade of organizing: “Our vision is that educators at charter schools and at Chicago Public Schools have common interests. We live in the same neighborhoods, we teach the same kids, and we wage the same struggles over resources and underfunding.”

Chicago charter school strike

“We are now a movement that commands national attention and can stop a city,” Sharkey continued. “We are united with each other and with parents and teachers and workers across Chicago. The message to educators at charters is that if you want smaller classes, a voice on the job and higher pay, give the union a call.”

You can send your congratulations and well wishes to teachers and paraprofessionals at all 15 UNO/Acero schools via the CTU Facebook page and the United Educators for Justice Twitter account.