Striking CPS support workers voting on new contract: ‘A victory for working people in Chicago’

The offer includes minimum raises of 16% and was unanimously recommended by SEIU’s bargaining committee.

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SEIU Local 73 President Dian Palmer and Vice President Jeffrey Howard announce a tentative contract agreement for 7,500 members who hold jobs such as security guard, bus aide and custodian — positions that help make Chicago Public Schools run.

At least someone’s happy.

While the teacher’s strike drags on, the 7,500 members of SEIU Local 73 — who work alongside teachers as security officers, special education classroom assistants and bus aides —  began voting on a deal with Chicago Public Schools Monday that uplifted spirits of the rank and file.

“Everybody’s in a pretty good mood. I think most workers would consider this a victory,” said Andre Henry, a classroom assistant at Walter Christopher Elementary School on the South Side. “They may have a little quibble here and there, but considering past negotiations, I think most people are ecstatic.”

He said aides like him are pleased because the deal stops them from being pulled away from working with kids who need extra help to attend to other duties, such as overseeing recess or the lunchroom. Security guards are happy because they won’t have to take physical fitness exams, while veteran bus aides won additional raises of up to $2 an hour depending on years of service, he said.

“I expect this contract to be ratified overwhelmingly tomorrow,” said Henry, who credited the union’s success to solidarity and picketing.


Andre Henry on the picket line


Voting continues Tuesday. More than 50 percent of members will have to approve the deal for it to be ratified — but they won’t go back to work until striking teachers do, too.

At a Monday afternoon press conference, Local 73 Vice President Jeffrey Howard responded bluntly when asked if there’s any chance union members, some of the city’s lowest paid, could return to work while the Chicago Teachers Union contract was still being negotiated.

“We are 100 percent in support of CTU and when they walk back into schools, we’ll walk back into schools. We walked out together, we’ll walk back in together,” he said at a news conference at the union’s headquarters on the Near West Side.

CTU spokeswoman Chris Geovanis thanked the union for continuing to stand by striking teachers.

“We appreciate the solidarity of our sisters and brothers in SEIU Local 73 from the bottom of our hearts,” Geovanis said in an email.

Other provisions of the five-year deal for SEIU members includes a minimum 16% raise over five years, although it would be retroactively enacted to span 2018 to 2023. Under the deal, workers will receive the increased pay they would have earned in 2018. 

As to whether they will be paid for days missed during the strike, a source close to negotiations said union members will return to work under the same conditions as CTU members when the teachers contract is settled.

The SEIU contract specifies no changes to the health insurance plan for five years, including no increases to co-pays, deductibles, plan choices or out-of-pocket costs, with only modest increases in employee contributions.

In addition to these benefits, the tentative agreement includes multiple improvements to working conditions for SEIU members, the city said. For example, employees will be able to carry over up to 40 days of unused sick leave for use for future absences.

“This is a victory for working people in Chicago and shows what is possible when we unite and take action,” said Local 73 President Dian Palmer.

“I can tell you the bargaining committee voted unanimously to recommend the contract to their colleagues,” she said.

The tentative agreement was reached late Sunday after two marathon bargaining sessions held Saturday and Sunday at Malcolm X College that totaled nearly 24 hours.

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