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Chicago Teachers Union signs tentative agreement with charter operator Instituto

By staff |
May 8, 2019
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Chicago, IL – Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) members at charter schools are reforming the industry one charter operator at a time and that campaign won better working conditions for educators and better learning conditions for students at two charter schools run by Instituto del Progresso Latino. Teachers and support staff from two schools, Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy and Instituto Justice Leadership Academy, had been on strike against the charter operator since the end of the day on May 1. The tentative agreement was finalized just before 11 p.m. on May 6.

Strikers won decreases in class sizes, sanctuary language to protect the schools' overwhelmingly Latino and immigrant student population, and contract protections for English language learners and special education students. CTU members also won improved wrap-around services for students, including staffing ratios for social workers, counselors, nurses and psychologists. Wages and benefits for strikers will also improve, bringing charter educators' earning power close to parity with comparable workers in the Chicago Public Schools. The charter industry is notorious for low pay and harsh working conditions.

Several low-wage clerical staff who had not been represented by the CTU also struck, demanding improved pay, stronger rights on the job, and the right to join the union. The employer recognized the union for these workers that night, and they will now be part of CTU.

"Educators' working conditions are students' learning conditions, and we're pushing charter operators to do better by both students and the educators who support them," said CTU President Jesse Sharkey. "Students deserve to have public education dollars invested in their classrooms, not in charter operators' board rooms or executive salaries. We're fighting to ensure that operators reverse chronically low wages and inadequate classroom resources. This agreement ensures that public education funds are invested instead where they belong - in our students' educational needs. This agreement is another victory in the effort to set new, more responsible standards across the industry."

CTU bargaining with Instituto hinged around four central demands: living wages, smaller class sizes, adequate staffing and more resources for classrooms and student supports. Tonight's bargaining wins mirror victories in the last six months at charter schools, which include the UNO/Acero network, four CICS-controlled schools, Latino Youth High School and ChiArts. The latter two schools went on strike with the Instituto schools, and settled their contracts just days ago. The multi-employer strike that began at the end of the May 1 workday is the first multi-employer charter strike in U.S. history.

Poor pay, harsh working conditions and acute shortages in classroom resources have driven staff turnover rates of upwards of 35% since the start of the 2017-18 school year, undermining the stability of the school communities and the educational continuity for students. Special education students at both schools were routinely shortchanged of services to which they have a legal right, issues the new contact language is designed to remedy. IJLA has a high percentage of students who confront trauma and both schools serve high-needs, high-poverty student populations. Staffing improvements in social workers, counselors and other critical frontline workers were baked into contract language to ensure that students get the wrap-round supports they need to heal and grow into thriving, engaged lifelong learners.

The tentative agreement forces Instituto to move more of the public education dollars the operator receives into school communities instead of the operator's non-educational bureaucracy, a broad goal of CTU bargaining and organizing across the charter landscape.