Teaching Profession

As L.A. Strike Continues, Plans for More Labor Actions Take Shape in Chicago and Denver

By Madeline Will — January 17, 2019 3 min read
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Los Angeles teachers are on day four of their strike—the first major education labor action of the new year. But already, plans for future work stoppages are bubbling up in other parts of the country.

In Chicago, teachers at four Chicago International Charter Schools campuses will go on strike Feb. 5, if contract negotiations are not resolved. The teachers plan to strike for more classroom resources, smaller class sizes, more support staff, and better pay for teaching assistants. They are represented by the Chicago Teachers Union, which has accused CICS of “hoarding” more than $36 million in reserves.

“Charters need to change the way they do business. No longer can they shortchange students and parents and teachers by low-balling educators and cramming classrooms full of students,” said Chris Baehrend, the chair of CTU’s charter division, at a press conference Thursday. “Our students deserve better, and we’re going to stand strong to make sure they do the right thing.”

The Chicago Teachers Union represents the city’s public school teachers, as well as teachers at 34 of the 128 charter school campuses in the city, including four of CICS’ 14 schools.

CICS has said that charter schools are “significantly underfunded compared to district schools,” and that most of the per-pupil funds are used to cover rent payments for the network’s 14 campuses, debt services, capital projects, and repairs. Charter schools, unlike traditional public schools, must provide and pay for their own facilities, CICS has said.

This will be the third-ever charter teacher strike in the country, and the second in Chicago. About 80 charter school teachers in Los Angeles are also currently on strike—they joined their district peers by walking out of their classrooms on Tuesday.

The first charter strike in Chicago happened last month, and ended with the Acero charter school network agreeing to raise pay for teachers and paraprofessionals, reduce class sizes, and provide sanctuary for undocumented students. A labor expert told Education Week that the first successful charter strike could inspire other teachers in unionized charter schools—and show teachers in non-unionized charter schools that they might have power if they’re organized.

Nationally, about 11 percent of charter schools are unionized, but teachers’ unions have been making inroads there in recent years.

See also: More Charter School Teachers See Unions as an Option

Meanwhile, in Denver, the school district and the teachers’ union have until Friday to agree on a new contract. If negotiations fail, the union has scheduled a strike vote for Saturday. The earliest teachers in the state’s largest school district could walk out of their classrooms is Jan. 28.

The Denver Classroom Teachers Association is asking the district to commit $30 million toward teacher pay and has proposed a revised salary schedule that would give teachers more opportunities to earn raises as they advance in their careers, the Denver Post reported. The district has offered $23 million toward salaries and proposed a schedule that would give teachers a higher starting salary, with fewer opportunities to earn raises. The last teacher strike in Denver was in 1994.

Interestingly, Superintendent Susana Cordova has pledged to keep schools open, should there be a strike, according to the Denver Post. It’s relatively uncommon for instruction to continue during teacher strikes, but that’s what’s happening now in Los Angeles. There, administrators, substitutes, and volunteers are teaching large groups of students in open spaces like auditoriums and gymnasiums.

Cordova—who was one of Education Week’s 2018 Leaders to Learn From—told the Post that if the union votes to strike, the district would ask the state to intervene. A state intervention could last up to 180 days according to the district, which could delay a strike until July. It is against Colorado law for teachers to strike while the state is working to resolve issues.

Image: Retired Chicago school teacher Patricia Lofton counts through a stack of picket signs for Chicago Teachers Union members to pick up on Oct. 10, 2016. —Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.