Charter school teachers’ contract dispute heats up; Acero files labor complaints

SHARE Charter school teachers’ contract dispute heats up; Acero files labor complaints
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Elizabeth Kelly, teacher at Rufino Tamayo Elementary, poses with her student. | Manny Ramos / Sun-Times

Two labor complaints were filed Friday in an attempt to end the nation’s first-ever charter school strike.

Acero Charter Schools has filed complaints against the Chicago Teachers Union with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board and National Labor Relations Board to stop the strike.

Court documents claim the union is “engaging in regressive bargaining” tactics, with picketers harassing substitute teachers trying to enter the schools. One picketer, the filing claims, threatened to call federal immigration officials on a parent bringing their child to school.

According to the complaints, Acero principal also claimed picketers offered alcohol to a school security guard with minors present.

Araceli De La Cruz, Acero’s attorney, called the strike “illegal and added: “There have been a number of incidents that have occurred on the picket lines and the negotiation table that warrant us to believe that there are unfair labor practices that are at play as well.”

“Acero’s management is desperate, and our pressure is working,” Jesse Sharkey said in a statement Friday evening. “There is nothing illegal about our strike over wages, benefits, class size and other conditions that are mandatory subjects of bargaining under the federal labor law that governs this contract.”

The state complaint asks the Illinois board to obtain a temporary restraining order to force teachers back into the classroom as contract talks continue.

Teachers and paraprofessionals have been negotiating since May.

“This is a pathetic and predictable ploy, built on a tissue of lies. Our bargaining team is at the table now and intends to work through the weekend,” Sharkey said.

The complaints come on the heels of a CTU rally at Ald. Ed Burke’s 14th Ward office Friday afternoon. Sharkey blamed Acero’s CEO Richard Rodriguez for the strike.

Sharkey, standing in Burke’s office parking lot, declared: “Rich Rodriguez, we are going to settle this contract, or you will resign.”

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Since the strike began, Sharkey and other CTU members have said Rodriguez has not been very active in the negotiating process. They said he has yet to appear at a single meeting over the last seven months of negotiations.

“[Rodriguez] has been working around the clock, meeting with Acero’s bargaining team before, during and after negotiations every day,” a spokesperson for Acero said Friday. “He is deeply engaged and has no greater priority than getting students back in the classroom.”

Burke, whose offices were raided a week ago, spent Friday morning visiting several picket lines at several Acero schools in his ward, CTU members said. He later spoke to about 40 union members and Acero parents in his ward office. Attempting to speak with a parent in Spanish, he said he would try his best to get Rodriguez to do what was best for the teachers and parents of Acero.

Yesterday, the City Council’s Latino Caucus also backed the strike, sending a letter to Rodriguez that read, in part: “We demand that you agree to a contract and settle the strike as soon as possible; it is truly shameful that Acero Network has come to this point!”

Manny Ramos is a corps member inReport for America,a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.

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