CHICAGO — Teachers and staff at Acero charter schools here celebrated a victory Dec. 9 after a five-day strike. “Today our students and families have won — bottom line,” Chicago Teachers Union staff member Andy Cooks told the gathering. A tentative agreement was announced that morning.
Some 500 teachers and staff had walked out at the 15 Acero schools Dec. 4 after seven months of contract talks. It is the first time that teachers have gone on strike at a charter school system.
At the celebration many of some 450 charter and public schools teachers, parents, along with students and supporters wore red, the popular color of the shirts worn by teachers during protests last spring in several statewide actions.
After the rally, Jack Peterson, a public school teacher for 25 years, told the Militant, “I have never been so proud to be a teacher. Teachers started to stand up and fight, starting with the teachers in West Virginia. We are just beginning.”
The teachers’ main demands included smaller class sizes and raises to bring their pay more in line with teachers and staff at Chicago Public Schools. Teachers at the Acero network unionized in 2013, and are part of the charter school division of the Chicago Teachers Union. They won their first contract in 2014.
In a news release, Acero said they had agreed to pay raises, reduced class sizes, and to the union’s demand to shorten the school year to more closely align with the public schools.
The big majority of Acero students are Latino. The general counsel for the union said the new contract will also prohibit Acero from distributing information about the immigration status of students, teachers and families.
During the strike, teacher Martha Baumgarten told ABC News, “We are asking for equal pay for equal work. Our staff works 20 percent longer over the school year than CPS staff but we get paid an average of 15 percent less.”
“We have 32 students in a class, at all age levels, and it’s too much,” Gabriela Morales, a kindergarten paraprofessional, told the Militant on a picket line the first day of the strike.
Another striker said, “We don’t have a library. We share the gym, playground and cafeteria between three schools. There are kids doing gym in their regular classroom, next to the desks.”
Strikers picketed the schools every morning and organized rallies at Acero’s downtown headquarters, the Chicago Board of Education and elsewhere.