CPS support workers union votes to ratify deal with CPS

The union announced Wednesday afternoon that 97% of its members voted to ratify the deal.

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Members of SEIU Local 73, led by president Dian Palmer, celebrate after voting to ratify its new contract with Chicago Public Schools.

Members of SEIU Local 73, led by president Dian Palmer, celebrate after voting to ratify its new contract with Chicago Public Schools.

Jake Wittich / Sun-Times

Members of SEIU Local 73, the union representing 7,500 Chicago Public Schools support staff, voted Wednesday to ratify its tentative agreement with CPS reached late Sunday.

The union — made of special education classroom assistants, custodians, bus aides, security officer and other school staff — announced that 97% of its members voted to ratify the deal. But its members were encouraged to continue striking until the Chicago Teachers Union also reaches a deal with the city.

“This contract means equity, putting us on a progressive track to come out of poverty,” said Jonathan Williams, a special education classroom assistant at Wilma Rudolph Learning Center on the Near West Side.

The contract runs retroactive from July 1, 2018, ending on June 30, 2023.

According to Science Meles, workers will see significant raises under the new deal with:

  • newly hired SECAs seeing a 40% wage increase, with 38% increases for SECAs with more than 20 years of experience;
  • a 17–27% wage increase for bus aides, based on years of service;
  • a 20–32% wage increase for security officers; and
  • an 18–27% wage increase for custodians through the 2020–2021 school. Additional negotiations for custodian pay will happen then.

“This is one of the most historic wins we’ve seen,” Meles said.

Bus aides will also receive a $5 daily stipend for employees who board buses outside of city limits, a $250 one-time bonus by Dec. 15 this year and have their benefit days restored to 10 sick and three personal days each year.

Williams said SECAs’ duties will be restricted so they can focus more on their special education students rather than being pulled into doing custodial, security and other work.

“I can now dedicate my undivided attention to my student or students that need my help and assistance, which is what the SECAs were hired to do,” Williams said.

Meles added that custodians will now be able to report unsanitary school conditions through the union for immediate inspection by top CPS management and a union steward.

For security guards, Meles said the contract defines what constitutes an emergency so workers will no longer be pulled from their school safety duties.

“These Chicago Public Schools workers who have been marginalized and not offered dignity or respect stood up for themselves during this negotiation,” said Dian Palmer, president of SEIU Local 73.

Palmer said the contract was a victory “for all workers, [including] fast food and hospital workers who struggle every day to make ends meet.” She said the union stands in solidarity with all low-wage workers just as the CTU stood in solidarity with them.

Christel Williams-Hayes, CTU’s recording secretary, attended the announcement ahead of its 6 p.m. House of Delegates meeting to vote whether or not to end the strike. She said aligning the two unions’ contract expirations allowed them to join forces in negotiating for fairer contracts.

“That was a good decision, and both our unions were stronger for that … We began this strike together, and we should end it together,” Williams-Hayes said.

SEIU Local 73’s bargaining team shouted in response: “We will!”

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