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Union says tentative deal reached to end Acero strike, return to class Monday

Supporters dance onstage at the Chicago Teachers Union headquarters at a news conference on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, as a deal was reached to end the Acero charter schools strike. The Chicago Teachers Union is heading into contract talks with the wind at its back: A new poll that shows likely voters have a favorable view of the union that has stood toe-to-toe with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and overwhelmingly embrace the union’s “educational justice agenda.”| Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

The Chicago Teachers Union announced early Sunday that a tentative
deal had been reached with Acero charter schools to end a four-day
strike and that teachers would return to classes Monday.

The deal would bring the salaries of teachers and para-professionals —
workers that range from information tech specialists to school clerks,
some of whom earn less than $30,000 a year — in line with what their
peers at Chicago Public Schools earn, according to Chicago Teachers
Union President Jesse Sharkey.

The four-year contract — if it’s ratified — will be retroactive to
August 1 and include a two percent yearly cost-of-living increase, he

Sharkey said he’s “hoping to set a standard in the industry” with the new contract.

He said 34 of 130 charter schools in Chicago are currently unionized.

The union, which comprises about 530 workers spread across 15 Acero
schools, mostly on the South Side, is expected to vote on the
contracts early as this week. It’s expected to easily pass.

A meeting held Sunday at a packed auditorium at CTU headquarters had
the vibe of a victory rally. Several dozen union members sang and
performed a dance onstage swapping the words to the popular “Baby
Shark” song with verses such as “fair contract,” “smaller class” and
“we just won.”

Stacy Davis Gates, vice president of CTU, speaks at the Chicago Teachers Union headquarters Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

The deal also includes “sanctuary” protections for undocumented
students and their parents under which the charter school network
would not share information with immigration authorities. It also
includes a provision to reduce class sizes.

Acero Schools’ CEO Richard L. Rodriguez released a statement Sunday morning.

Froy Jimenez, a Chicago Teachers Union member, makes noise Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018 at the Chicago Teachers Union headquarters. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

“Thanks to hard work and very long hours from both bargaining teams,
we were able to reach an agreement that values teachers and staff for
the important work they do, while still maintaining the attributes of
our network that help produce strong educational outcomes for our
students,” he said. “Most important for all of us and the families and
communities we serve, we can now get students back into the classroom,
where they belong.”

The picketing Acero teachers went on strike Tuesday. Acero had filed
labor complaints against the union on Friday, seeking an injunction to
force teachers back to work; the CTU scoffed at that and pledged to
continue picketing while contract talks continued.

The strike drew outsized attention because it was the first organized
work stoppage at a charter school in the country.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who’d joined union members on the picket lines last week, heralded this historic moment for charter schools.

“This strike may be the first of its kind for teachers in charter schools, but the struggle is strikingly similar to so many public school educators’ across the United States,” Weingarten said in a statement Sunday.

Sharkey agreed that there is common ground.

“Our vision is that educators at charter schools and at Chicago Public Schools have common interests,” Sharkey said in a statement Sunday night. “We live in the same neighborhoods, we teach the same kids, and we wage the same struggles over resources and underfunding.”

“We are now a movement that commands national attention and can stop a city,” Sharkey said.