CTU merger with charter school union is bad for both students and teachers

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
January 31, 2018

CTU merger with charter school union is bad for both students and teachers

The Chicago Teachers Union's hold over the lives of Chicagoans will grow through its merger with ChiACTS, the union representing Chicago-area charter school teachers.

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union, or CTU, have approved a merger with the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, or ChiACTS, a union that claims to represent 1,000 teachers and staff at charter school campuses in the Chicago area.

That’s not good news for charter school students and parents – or for charter school teachers themselves.

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.

Regardless, members of ChiACTS voted in July 2017 to join with CTU. And on Jan. 29, 2018, CTU members voted in turn to approve the merger.

CTU’s adherence to militant union strike tactics, as well as its work to stifle charter school options, will undercut the mission of charter schools and harm both students and teachers in the Chicago area.

CTU’s strike tactics have been harmful to students, parents and teachers

Since 2012, CTU has gone on strike – or threatened to go on strike – at least four times.

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 Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, went to school April 1 to coach his renowned chess team. 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 in September 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 demonstrates CTU’s drive to advance its agenda at all costs.

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

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 its current 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 CTU.

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 “definitely anti-charter.”

Proponents of the merger claim it will make the unions stronger, as “one big union.” What that really means is CTU’s power over the lives of Chicagoans will grow even larger.

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