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Strike negotiations for UNO charter schools near deadline

With a midnight deadline looming, strike negotiations continued Tuesday night between the UNO Charter School Network and the United Educators of UNO union.

The union set 12 a.m. Wednesday as the deadline to strike.

Taking a 15-minute recess from negotiations on Tuesday night, union leaders told media assembled outside Santiago Elementary School in Humboldt Park that concessions had been made on both sides, though there was still common ground to be found in the final three hours before the strike deadline.

Negotiations started well over six months ago between United Educators of UNO and managers overseeing 16 UCSN schools throughout the city.

Citing budget cuts from Chicago Public Schools, which reduced per-pupil funding since last year, management has been seeking some concessions from the teachers and staff, asking them to pay more for their pensions and health care.

UCSN leaders say a strike isn’t necessary because teachers already received raises this year that averaged about 6.2 percent, or $3,822 each.

But the UEU members say the cuts imposed hurt the schools’ ability to hold onto staff. Besides, they said last week picketing outside UCSN’s downtown headquarters, management could cut from its own expensive salaries or $250,000-a-year rent for its central offices if it needs to save. CEO Richard Rodriguez earns $250,000 a year, the same as the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, which enrolls nearly 400,000 students systemwide.

UEU also lamented August layoffs that let go all of the schools’ Spanish-speaking graduate support advisers, who helped eighth-graders apply to high school or high school seniors to college and walked families through the often-complicated process.

The union wants summer break to last slightly longer than the current five weeks off, and asked management to cap class sizes at 32 students.

Charter schools were founded decades ago as more flexible options to traditional district schools that wouldn’t be burdened by bureaucracy or the hassle of unions. But many in Chicago since have unionized, citing tough working conditions and longer hours plus lower pay than at Chicago Public Schools. But the charter teachers are not part of the Chicago Teachers Union that narrowly averted a strike last week minutes before a midnight strike deadline.

The vote to authorize a strike was overwhelming, with 531 of 532 members of UNO’s unionized workforce casting ballots, and 96 percent of them cast in favor of striking if an acceptable agreement wasn’t reached by Oct. 19.

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