The union representing more than 100 teachers, counselors and educational support staff in the four-school ASPIRA charter network has said it will strike March 17 if negotiations with management haven’t led to a deal by then.

Despite repeated attempts to engage with management, the union has not been taken seriously, said Marines Martinez, acting head of A Council of Educators, the union that represents about 100 ASPIRA teachers, counselors and educational support staff.

ASPIRA teachers said they blame the network’s struggles solely on board chairman Fernando Grillo, who has been in charge for seven years.

“We even came to ASPIRA with non-financial compensation in hopes to bring our negotiations closer together,” she said. “They did not take us seriously, so again, that brings us to today.”

However, she added, the union did receive a counter-offer on Monday, “which our negotiating team is currently reviewing.”

Grillo, meanwhile, posted a letter dated Monday on the ASPIRA website, saying “The future of our ASPIRA children’s education is facing a critical point,” and the issue is whether the union will “present a proposal or spend their time with the media.”

He said ASPIRA initially offered a 10-percent raise, spread over five years, while the latest union offer was for raises of 3.25 and 3.0 percent over two years.

Their new proposal “ensures all teaching jobs stay intact with an increase in pay. Any other demands from the Union could jeopardize teaching positions, affect classroom size and hurt the overall education our students are receiving,” Grillo wrote.

“I have a lot of respect for the collective bargaining process but bargaining needs two parties at the table.”

Negotiations have been going on since May, Martinez said, with the union worried about “unstable leadership” and “our concerns that our schools are deteriorating,” Martinez told reporters outside ASPIRA Early College High School, 3119 N. Pulaski, on Tuesday.

In February, the union had voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike.

Of the 93 votes cast, 92 were in favor of striking, according to ChiACTS Local 4343 spokeswoman Chris Geovanis said at the time. No strike date was set back then because “the hope is this sends a strong enough message to management that they’re serious,” Geovanis said then.

The ASPIRA network operates a middle school and three high schools on the Northwest Side. A strike by ASPIRA teachers would be the first at a charter school anywhere in the country.

The strike vote was prompted by what the union called a “lack of transparency and accountability in finances and foundering leadership at the network’s most senior levels, threatening conditions in classrooms.”

Contributing: Sam Charles

Message From the ASPIRA Board by jroneill on Scribd