Chicago Teachers Union Makes Contract Demands to CPS

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The Chicago Teachers Union has long advocated for smaller class size, fewer standardized tests, and a freeze on charter schools, school closings, and school turnarounds. Lauren FitzPatrick and Esther Castillejo, writing for the Chicago Sun Times, report that the union announced at a large rally that it now wants these conditions in writing in its next contract.

The runoff for mayor will take place on April 7 between incumbent Rahm Emanuel and challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who is backed by the CTU.

Further demands from the union for every school in the city include: a school counselor and sufficient clinicians; a nurse; a truant officer; a restorative justice coordinator; a librarian; playground instructors; and dedicated teachers for art, music and gym. It also wants Chicago Public Schools to use money spent for Teach for America positions for the “traditional, in-depth Grow Your Own” teacher program.

“If you are here because you are sick and tired of people with no skin in the game destabilizing neighborhoods, then make some noise,” said Jitu Brown, an activist with Journey 4 Justice, alluding to the mayor’s hand-picked school board, which voted in 2013 to shutter 50 neighborhood schools.

Last week also brought out the union’s 50 member “big bargaining team” who met with the Board of Education. Negotiations began at that time and will end June 30 when the current contract expires.

“We look forward to productive conversations with CTU regarding the contract,” CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said. “CPS faces enormous financial challenges and a deficit of more than $1 billion, and will need help to keep these challenges from impacting the education of our students.”

The current contract between CTU and the Chicago Board of Education was agreed upon after the nine-day teachers’ strike in September 2012 during Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration.

Along with the CTU, the rally was spearheaded by the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM)  and an alliance of community groups. Participants chanted, “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Rahm Emanuel’s got to go!” Ellyn Fortino, reporting for Progress Illinois, says speakers expressed disdain over the 2013 closings of 50 neighborhood schools, charter school expansions, overuse of standardized testing, and inadequate and inequitable school resources.

Other issues included in the union’s 10 contract proposals are: the restoration of adequate preparation time and limits on paperwork for teachers; take legal action against banks to gain back over $1 billion for classrooms; end contracts with big banks that refuse a renegotiation of excessive fees and penalties; expand pre-K for parents who are living at 300% of the Federal Poverty Level; raise CPS employees and subcontractors to $15 an hour.

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said, when asked if CTU is too close to the union to be in the position of negotiating a new contract:

“If Chuy Garcia winds up being the mayor, we hope he stays accountable to the people who work in the schools, and the people who send their kids to schools,” he continued. “We hope that we can force him to address those demands. I’m not under the illusion that it’s going to be easy no matter who the mayor is. We’re not dumb. We know there’s financial constraints in this city … Whoever the mayor is, [he] is going to have to do the right thing by teachers and by the public.”

There were other groups that protested outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters last week. According to SEIU Local 1 janitors, they are underpaid and understaffed. The company that was contracted by CPS laid off nearly 300 janitors last year and cut 200 part-time employees, says WLS-TV. CTU members and fast food workers joined the janitors’ rally as well.