3 reasons charter school teachers should vote against union merger with CTU

Mailee Smith

Staff Attorney and Director of Labor Policy

Mailee Smith
/ Labor
June 7, 2017

3 reasons charter school teachers should vote against union merger with CTU

Unionized teachers at Chicago charter schools are voting on whether to merge with the Chicago Teachers Union – a move that would be detrimental to both teachers and students in Chicago.

The Chicago Teachers Union, or CTU, has a history of working against the expansion of charter schools and any increases in the number of students who can utilize them. That stance wouldn’t seem to gel well with teachers who have dedicated years of their lives to working in charter schools.

But on June 5, unionized teachers at many of Chicago’s charter schools began voting on a plan to merge their representative – the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff – with CTU.

That sort of merger would undercut the mission of charter schools as well as harm teachers and students in Chicago. Here are three reasons charter school teachers should vote “no.”

1. CTU’s control of Chicago schools has been harmful to students, parents and teachers

In 2012, CTU went on strike demanding higher wages, even though Chicago Public Schools already faced a $1 billion operating shortfall and an $8 billion pension shortfall. CTU members were already the highest-paid teachers among the nation’s 50 largest school districts.

In the short term, students missed instruction time, and students’ families were left in a lurch during the 2012 strike. Thousands of students had no place to go during the day while teachers were on strike.

The 2012 strike also had longer-term effects. After the strike ended, CPS announced it had to close 50 schools and lay off thousands of teachers to help reduce costs.

On April 1, 2016, CTU once again turned its back on students and parents by calling a one-day strike. What’s more, the union even punished teachers who chose to support their students that day. Joe Ocol, a teacher and chess coach in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago, went to school April 1 to coach his chess team – and his team subsequently took home a national championship. But CTU did not look favorably on Ocol’s decision to prioritize his students over the union’s agenda, and it expelled him from the union.

The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board subsequently found the strike was likely illegal. But the damage had already been done.

Then on Sept. 22-23, 2016, members of CTU voted to authorize yet another strike against CPS. The union prepared to strike, but a contract with CPS was negotiated before CTU once again decided to step out on students.

CTU also considered walking out May 1, 2017, but that strike was tabled.

CTU’s willingness to walk out on parents and students further demonstrates CTU’s drive to advance its agenda at all costs.

Students, parents and teachers in Chicago’s charter schools have been spared from these union tactics thus far. That will change if their union merges with CTU.

2. CTU fights against – not for – charter schools in Chicago

CTU has actively worked against the growth and success of Chicago charter schools and their students. In negotiating the latest teacher contract with CPS, CTU required a moratorium on the growth of charter schools. The contract provides:

“There will be a net zero increase in the number of Board authorized charter schools over the term of this agreement and the total number of students enrolled by the end of school year 2018-2019 will not exceed 101% of the total student enrollment capacity as of school year 2015-2016.”

In other words, CTU works to prevent the growth of charter schools and the number of students who can utilize them.

This action does not reflect an effort to provide the best educational options for students, but rather a desire to restrict competition. And it benefits no one but the union.

CTU’s past actions confirm the prediction of Andrew Broy, head of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, who has said a merger would establish a labor group that is “definitively anti-charter.”

3. CTU’s control would grow – creating chaos for more students and their families

All 10 of the city’s charter school labor contracts expire next year, according to the Chicago Tribune. Labor negotiations already are contentious in nature. Adding CTU to the mix – and its modus operandi of strike brinkmanship – would only make matters worse.

Labor unions claim that unionization and contract negotiations deter labor strife. CTU proves the opposite. And its hold over the lives of Chicagoans will grow if charter teachers vote to merge with CTU.

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