UNO teachers, staff ratify first union contract

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Teachers and staff at the United Neighborhood Organization’s 16 charter schools overwhelmingly voted to ratify their first contract on Monday, becoming Chicago’s biggest charter school network to operate under a labor agreement.

Union organizers say the contract, approved in a 445-to-16 vote, sets a “gold standard” for future charter school labor agreements across the country. It includes:

  • A salary schedule based on years of experience and educational attainment that will raise some employees’ salaries by as much as $10,000. Pay increases will be retroactive to the beginning of this school year.
  • Elimination of year-end bonuses based on evaluations that employees say used inconsistent metrics and fueled resentment among colleagues.
  • A “just cause” provision for terminations and a grievance procedure.
  • Paid and unpaid release time for bargaining unit members to do union-related work.
  • A longer summer break for teachers. Previously, teachers and staff had four weeks of summer vacation; now they will have five weeks under the new contract. However, the total number of instructional days remain unchanged.

 

“This contract will give a lot of people hope that [the charter network] is a place they can stay at for more than a year or two and grow as teachers and professionals without thinking their jobs are going to be on the line at the end of the year,” said Mallory Bruno, a special education teacher at UNO’s Octavio Paz Elementary School. “The salary schedule is so appealing now, I look forward to staying here for years to come.”

UNO charter school officials and board members – who approved the contract in a meeting last week — did not respond to multiple requests from comment. UNO administrators and union members reached a tentative agreement in late February after months of negotiations.

The three-year contract will apply retroactively to the beginning of the school year. It covers about 520 teachers and professional staff at UNO schools, including information technology staff, office support, nurses and social workers.

Previously, only about 300 teachers and employees at 11 of the 126 charter schools in Chicago worked under labor contracts. The Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, or Chicago ACTS, an affiliate of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers, is the bargaining agent for all organized charter schools in the city.

“The UNO effort is a great example of what can happen when teachers and charter management work together for what’s most important—the students’ success,” said IFT President Dan Montgomery in a written statement. “Strong staffs lead to strong schools, and their ability to advocate for high-quality education with a collective voice will greatly benefit the students and our communities.”

UNO staff unionized last spring in the midst of a corruption scandal at the charter schools network.

Former CEO Juan Rangel bowed out of both organizations last year after a series of revelations by the Chicago Sun-Times of nepotism and contract steering. Adding to UNO’s woes is a loss of millions of dollars in state grant money and an ongoing U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into a 2011 bond deal that helped expand the network.

Bruno said she hopes the contract ratification changes the public image of UNO for the better.

“I think people will start to respect UNO more than it’s already respected,” Bruno said.

 

UNO teachers and staff say their next step after today’s vote will be to schedule elections for union representatives and officers.