Teaching Profession

Is the Nation’s First Charter School Strike Imminent?

By Madeline Will — November 01, 2018 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Teachers at a charter network in Chicago have voted to take the first step toward the country’s first charter-school strike.

Earlier this week, 503 of the Chicago Teachers Union’s 536 members at Acero’s 15 charter schools voted to authorize a strike. (Most unionized members turned out to vote.) They are fighting for pay raises, smaller class sizes, increased special education staffing, and extended parental leave.

Teachers at four more unionized charter schools in the city—part of the Chicago International Charter Schools network—will vote on whether to authorize their own strike tomorrow. (Update, 11/2: Nearly all of the union members at those four schools voted to authorize a strike. They could now strike for pay raises if bargaining fails.)

While there has been plenty of teacher activism lately—from six statewide walkouts this spring to a spate of teacher strikes in Washington state to a potential strike brewing in Los Angeles—charter schools have been mostly immune. Nationally, a small percentage of charter schools are unionized—only about 11.3 percent, according to data from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. In fact, charter schools were in part created to free school leaders from many state and district regulations, including collective bargaining contracts.The idea is that this allows charter schools more flexibility to innovate and try new things, such as longer school days and school years.

But unions are making inroads in the charter space, and earlier this year, the Chicago Teachers Union merged with the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, which includes Acero teachers. Acero is the largest unionized operator in the Chicago district.

“Our teachers, paraprofessionals, office coordinators, and IT staff work longer hours in a longer school day and year for less than public schools. That’s got to change,” said Andy Crooks, the president of Acero’s division of unionized teachers, in a statement.

Union officials also complained of high turnover rates at the charter network—as high as 50 percent on some campuses—growing class sizes, and a lack of a pathway for paraprofessionals to become certified special education teachers.

The union and Acero have been at a stalemate in contract negotiations. There have been 18 bargaining sessions, including one facilitated by a federal mediator, according to a statement from Acero.

Acero has offered teachers a 5 percent salary raise, and will continue to negotiate with the union. The network is working on contingency plans should a strike occur, officials wrote in a letter to parents.

Acero was formerly known as UNO Charter Schools Network, which was plagued with scandals—including being charged in federal court with defrauding investors. The network narrowly avoided a teachers’ strike in October 2016. It rebranded to Acero Schools last year.

Charters and Teachers’ Unions

Teachers’ unions have historically mounted the strongest opposition to charter expansion efforts in state elections, legislatures, and courts. But unions have become more open to the idea of representing charter teachers, and the number of unionized charters might even grow as unions try to recruit new members in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that made it easier for teachers to drop their union memberships. Teachers’ unions might find fertile ground for new membership in the charter sector and focus more organizing efforts there, although this has yet to be seen on any major scale.

In California, for example, the state teachers’ union made organizing charter schools a long-term strategic focus in 2014. Teachers at California Virtual Academy, which includes nine schools, recently unionized as an affiliate of the California Teachers Association. They negotiated their first contract with management this spring after being inspired to strike by teacher walkouts in West Virginia and Oklahoma.

Back in Chicago, several charter and district teachers were skeptical of a partnership, but CTU President Jesse Sharkey (who was then the union’s vice president) said the merger “strengthened our hand against charter operators.”

In a statement this week, Sharkey criticized Acero charter operators for spending large amounts on salaries for the network’s top management.

“This contract fight is about educational justice—and the educational justice movement rising across this country has come home to Chicago’s charter industry,” Sharkey said. “We demand well-resourced schools, and we are prepared to strike to make that happen.”

Education Week reporter Arianna Prothero contributed to this post.

Related Tags:

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

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Reported Essay Teachers Are Not OK, Even Though We Need Them to Be
The pandemic has put teachers through the wringer. Administrators must think about staff well-being differently.
6 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Teaching Profession We Feel Your Grief: Remembering the 1,000 Plus Educators Who've Died of COVID-19
The heartbreaking tally of lives lost to the coronavirus continues to rise and take a steep toll on school communities.
3 min read
090321 1000 Educators Lost BS
Education Week
Teaching Profession Letter to the Editor Educators Have a Responsibility to Support the Common Good
A science teacher responds to another science teacher's hesitation to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
1 min read
Teaching Profession With Vaccine Mandates on the Rise, Some Teachers May Face Discipline
With a vaccine now fully FDA-approved, more states and districts will likely require school staff get vaccinated. The logistics are tricky.
9 min read
Grace John, who works at a school in San Lorenzo, gets a COVID-19 shot at a mobile vaccination clinic run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state in Hayward, Calif., on Feb. 19, 2021. California will become the first state in the nation to require all teachers and school staff to get vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. The statewide vaccine mandate for K-12 educators comes as schools return from summer break amid growing concerns of the highly contagious delta variant.
Grace John, who works at a school in San Lorenzo, gets a COVID-19 shot at a mobile vaccination clinic in Hayward, Calif. California is among those states requiring all teachers and school staff to get vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.
Terry Chea/AP