Latino Youth Alternative School teachers to vote on union contract

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Nearly five years after they started organizing to form a union, teachers at the alternative Latino Youth High School in Pilsen say they’re preparing to vote on their first labor contract.

Organizers said they are still finalizing the details on the tentative agreement with the school’s operator, Pilsen Wellness Center. The 12 teachers included in the contract won’t vote on it until after school begins in September, and the school’s board also has to ratify the contract.

The tentative agreement includes language on due process and the formation of committees for teachers to participate in making decisions about the school, including on social-emotional and academic issues. Teachers will also work with management to develop the process and tools to be used in their own evaluations.

The tentative agreement also creates a step and lane system for salary increases, a first in any union contract for charter teachers in Chicago.

“This makes it more attractive to teachers with advanced degrees to work for the school, and encourages people who are already there to continue their educations,” said Chris Baehrend, an English teacher at Latino Youth and the vice president of Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (Chicago ACTS). “Overall, we’re satisfied with the contract.”

Administrators of Pilsen Wellness Center and an attorney representing the non-profit organization did not respond to requests seeking comment on the negotiations.

Teachers at Latino Youth had voted to unionize under state labor law in 2010, but the school appealed to the National Labor Relations Board, arguing that the state’s education labor laws didn’t apply because it was a charter school. After a protracted fight, teachers again voted under federal labor law last fall, and have been negotiating their first contract ever since.

Baehrend said the process helped rebuild the relationship between teachers and management.

“Sitting down with that board and having discussions really created trust in that we all want to do what’s in students’ best interest,” he said.

Latino Youth is one of 20 alternative schools that operate under the umbrella of Youth Connection Charter Schools (YCCS), the non-profit organization that hold the charter with Chicago Public Schools. Last year Latino Youth reported an enrollment of about 200 students, grades 10 through 12.

It’s one of 29 unionized charter schools in Chicago, representing about a quarter of all charter schools in the city. Apart from Latino Youth, the only other school that lacks a contract is Chicago International Charter School (CICS) ChicagoQuest.

Teachers there voted to unionize in May after a months-long standoff with CICS. Those teachers are currently in contract negotiations with the school’s management group, ChicagoQuest Schools. Another three CICS schools managed by a separate management group already have a contract.