PILSEN — Teachers with one of Chicago's largest charter school systems have come to a tentative contract agreement, averting the first charter school strike in the nation.
"We have successfully averted our strike," said Erica Stewart, spokeswoman for United Educators of UNO. "We came to enough of agreement [with UNO] to be able to stop from having to shut down the schools today."
Teachers and support staff with the UNO Charter School Network had been negotiating with the network for a new labor contract, one they hoped would avoid classroom cuts, their union said.
But when talks between the union and the network stalled, more than 96 percent of its 531 members voted to authorized a strike if the union could not come to an agreement with management by Wednesday. That agreement was reached early Wednesday morning and announced at 3 a.m. Wednesday, hours before teachers were scheduled to picket.
Class sizes have been capped at 32 students, and employees will have shorter days and a shorter school year, with the work year for teachers down to 196 days from 201 days, union members said at an early morning news conference. Students' school year will be 183 days.
There tentative contract also includes "substantial" protections against layoffs and recalls, and teacher's seniority rights have been recognized for the first time, said Robert Bloch, an attorney for the teachers union.
Current will get to keep the 7 percent pension pickup provided by management, while new employees will have zero pension pickup and will get a 7 percent pay increase, according to a United Educators at UNO news release. That's "essentially the same system" that was adopted at Chicago Public Schools to avoid a Chicago Teachers Union strike, Bloch said.
And, in an "important" win for the union, a joint committee that will make recommendations on what to do during funding shortfalls will be created, according to the UNO teachers union.
“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,” Stewart said.
Stewart, speaking at the news conference, said the union was "really happy" with the agreement, but minor details are being worked out.
Union members were prepared to walk out Wednesday barring a last-minute deal.
Just as the Chicago Teachers Union had, the United Educators of Uno spent the last seven months bargaining with administrators over a new contract. Chicago Teachers Union members avoided a strike with an 11th-hour deal.
Just as CPS has had to slash budgets at district-run schools, it has also had to reduce funding to charter schools. To compensate, UNO has had to make cuts, it said.
Over the summer, the network had proposed pay cuts at all but one salary step schedule while decreasing longevity bonuses and retirement contributions and increasing health insurance premiums by 50 percent, according to the union.
In July, the union extended its contract by 60 days to keep negotiating with UNO after delays through the spring, according to emails. The contract expired Oct. 2.
In August, UNO cut 29 positions and closed five vacant positions, a 5 percent reduction in its workforce, the union said. More cuts were not sustainable, the union said.
UNO operates 15 campuses in Chicago with 8,000 students, including:
• Octavio Paz School, 2651 W. 23rd St. in Little Village
• Rufino Tomayo School, 5135 S. California Ave. in Gage Park
• Bartolomé de Las Cesas School, 1641 W. 16th St. in Pilsen
• Carlos Feuntes School, 2845 W. Barry Ave. in Avondale
• Officer Donald J. Marquez School, 2916 W. 47th St. in Brighton Park
• Spc. Daniel Zizumbo School, 4248 W. 47th St., first floor, in Archer Heights
• Pfc. Omar E. Torres School, 4248 W. 47th St., second floor, in Archer Heights
• Major Hector P. Garcia High School, 4248 W. 47th St., third floor, in Archer Heights
• Esmeralda Santiago School, 2510 W. Cortez St. in Humboldt Park
• Soccer Academy Elementary, 5050 S. Homan Ave. in Gage Park
• Roberto Clemente School, 2050 N. Natchez Ave. in Galewood
• Rogers Park School, 7416 N. Ridge Blvd. in Rogers Park
• Brighton Park School, 4420 S. Fairfield Ave. in Brighton Park
• Soccer Academy High School, 5025 S. St. Louis Ave. in Gage Park
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