UNO teachers’ strike averted

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Members of the United Educators at UNO announce a contract deal with the UNO Charter School Network early Wednesday after negotiations finished at Esmeralda Santiago Elementary School, 2510 W. Cortez St. | Network Video Productions

Chicago just dodged another teachers strike.

So the 8,000 students at UNO Charter School Network campuses will have school Wednesday after their 525-plus teachers and their administration reached a tentative contract.

The deal was reached at 3 a.m., hours after the previously stated 12 a.m. Wednesday strike deadline.

“We think our rank and file will be satisfied with this agreement, it’s certainly a vast improvement over what management was originally prepared to offer,” said Christine Geovanis, a spokeswoman for the United Educators at UNO.

Geovanis said the union will return to the bargaining table on Thursday “to work out some small details,” and will then have something to present to their membership for review.

“During these final hours, we were very close, but still about $1.5 million short of what we needed to finalize a contract,” Richard Rodriguez, CEO of UCSN, told reporters. “After much discussion, we all agreed that the most important thing is to keep schools open while we investigate ways to bridge that gap.”

Rodriguez said UCSN will continue to talk to Chicago Public Schools to “try to identify additional sources of revenue and determine whether a portion of the TIF funds provided to CPS will be shared with all public schools, including charters.”

Contract negotiations started well over six months ago between the union and managers overseeing 16 UCSN schools throughout the city.

Citing budget cuts from Chicago Public Schools, which reduced per-pupil funding since last year, management has been seeking some concessions from the teachers and staff, asking them to pay more for their pensions and health care.

UCSN leaders say a strike isn’t necessary because teachers already received raises this year that averaged about 6.2 percent, or $3,822 each.

But the UEU members say the cuts imposed hurt the schools’ ability to hold onto staff. Besides, they said last week picketing outside UCSN’s downtown headquarters, management could cut from its own expensive salaries or $250,000-a-year rent for its central offices if it needs to save. CEO Richard Rodriguez earns $250,000 a year, the same as the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, which enrolls nearly 400,000 students systemwide.

UEU also lamented August layoffs that let go all of the schools’ Spanish-speaking graduate support advisers, who helped eighth-graders apply to high school or high school seniors to college and walked families through the often-complicated process.

The union wants summer break to last slightly longer than the current five weeks off, and asked management to cap class sizes at 32 students.

Charter schools were founded decades ago as more flexible options to traditional district schools that wouldn’t be burdened by bureaucracy or the hassle of unions. But many in Chicago since have unionized, citing tough working conditions and longer hours plus lower pay than at Chicago Public Schools. But the charter teachers are not part of the Chicago Teachers Union that narrowly averted a strike last week minutes before a midnight strike deadline.

The vote to authorize a strike was overwhelming, with 531 of 532 members of UNO’s unionized workforce casting ballots, and 96 percent of them cast in favor of striking if an acceptable agreement wasn’t reached by Oct. 19.

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