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Teachers Union Leaders on Chicago Charter School Strike Victory

CHICAGO - American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey, and union bargaining committee member Martha Baumgarten issued the following statements after the bargaining team for 500 striking educators at 15 Acero charter schools reached a tentative agreement with management today. The strike—the first ever at a U.S. charter school network—received overwhelming support from parents and the community.

The tentative agreement reduces class size and includes language in the contract to provide sanctuary for the school’s predominantly immigrant population, including protection from federal immigration enforcement on school grounds, and aligns pay for teachers and paraprofessionals with the pay scales of their colleagues in Chicago Public Schools, among other provisions. It will now go to the full Acero membership for ratification.

The AFT’s Weingarten said: “This strike may be the first of its kind for teachers in charter schools, but the struggle is strikingly similar to so many public school educators’ across the United States. 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. 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.

“Educators fought for more classroom resources, smaller class sizes, sanctuary protections for their immigrant students and fair wages, including a stronger career path for paraprofessionals, with no loss of instructional time. And make no mistake: This strike was also about rejecting a charter school model that puts administrators and profits over students and educators. If charters are here to stay, they need to provide the learning and teaching conditions for kids to thrive.

“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.”

Baumgarten, a bargaining committee member and fifth-grade teacher at Carlos Fuentes Elementary, said: “We are excited to be able to come to an agreement and suspend the strike. 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.”

The CTU’s Sharkey said: “This was the culmination of our vision over 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.

“We are now a movement that commands national attention and can stop a city. 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. We won because we talked to our co-workers, raised our voice and were willing to strike. We have a movement to make public education and our schools a better place, but we also don’t think it’s fair that kids are locked in border camps. Today is just the beginning.”

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The American Federation of Teachers is a union of professionals that champions fairness; democracy; economic opportunity; and high-quality public education, healthcare and public services for our students, their families and our communities. We are committed to advancing these principles through community engagement, organizing, collective bargaining and political activism, and especially through the work our members do.

The American Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, was founded in 1916 and today represents 1.6 million members in more than 3,000 local affiliates nationwide.

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