CHICAGO – A growing charter school union could soon merge with the Chicago Teachers Union, despite the CTU’s history of badmouthing the independent public schools created as alternative to the city’s failing education system.
“We’ve got the same problems with the school budget, same problems with financial oversight and having to a say in how budgets are spent,” Chris Baehrend, president of the ChiACTS charter school union, told the Chicago Sun-Times.
“The majority of our schools have seen enrollment decline, budget cuts and layoffs,” he said. “We’re really facing the same problems and then if you really think about it, it doesn’t matter who cuts our check. We’re servicing the same kids.”
A letter recently to hundreds of CTU governing delegates outlined the possible merger.
“We believe that unification is a key step to allow educators to speak with one voice in Chicago, halt privatization and bring additional resources to our collective work at the CTU,” the letter read.
“That said, merging two dynamic locals into a single union is a delicate process and will inevitably bring challenges and tensions,” the letter continued. “We must be intentional about address both sets of members’ questions, concerns and commitments to having a clear voice, representation and identity within the new, larger organization.”
ChiACTS members are expected to vote on joining the CTU this week, though the results will not be released for several days, while CTU members likely won’t vote on the change until later this fall.
If the agreement is approved, the CTU will increase dues for charter school teachers, and both the charter school union and CTU will continue to negotiate contracts separately, according to the Chicago Tribune.
ChiACTS is a branch of the American Federation of Teachers and Illinois Federation of Teachers. The CTU is the oldest teachers union in the nation and also a member of those two parent organizations.
Currently, the CTU subsidizes contract negotiations and staff support for ChiACTS as charter school teachers have threatened to walk off the job in recent years. That “servicing agreement” between the unions is “no longer sustainable,” according to union documents cited by the Tribune, and a merger would not only help solve the problem but also give ChiACTS members a vote in CTU elections.
“People are very used to thinking of the CTU as monolithic, that it’s one union representing one employer at Chicago Public Schools,” CTU VP Jesse Sharkey told the Tribune.
“It’s an important change to the CTU,” he said. “The CTU would become a union that is federated, that represents multiple employers. When people hear the term ‘CTU,’ they’re going to have to understand that the CTU doesn’t just represent CPS. It will more broadly be an organization for public educators in the city of Chicago.”
However, folks like Andrew Broy, head of Illinois Network of Charter Schools, pointed out the CTU’s long history of denigrating charter schools, which were created to shed the burdensome work rules that saddle unionized public schools and bog down school budgets and student learning.
Broy believes the merger would establish a “definitely anti-charter” mega union that will undermine the foundation for success charter schools were built on.
“They’re making explicit what had been implicit for a while,” Broy said of CTU officials attacking charter schools.
The Sun-Times points out that the CTU pushed hard to include a cap on the number of charter schools in the city during the last round of contract negotiations with CPS, but that measure did not make it into the final deal.
The CTU has steadily lost members in recent years as CPS officials have closed public schools as they’ve opened non-unionized charter schools in the city. But ChiACTS has organized about 32 or 130 charter schools in Chicago with the help of CTU attorneys, and now CTU President Karen Lewis wants to leverage ChiACTS members to take the union’s anti-capitalism, anti-school choice campaign to charter school companies.
Lewis told reporters last week that “charter schools are here, they’re not going anywhere. So the key is, how do you make them a bitter pill to their management companies?
“It’s the management companies we have the issues with, not the charter teachers, not the students, not the parents,” she said. “The key is, organize people to fight for fair conditions of work then that’s good for everybody.”
Broy told the Sun-Times he believes the CTU remains anti-charter, and contends the “hostile takeover” of ChiACTS will not actually benefit any charter school teachers.
“I wouldn’t take the rhetoric at face value,” he said. CTU officials “still want to undermine charters, they’re just doing it through a different public posture.”