On the Picket Line: Teachers & energy workers win, Southern unions hold the line

Chicago charter teachers win historic strike victory!

Education workers, parents and students won the second-longest charter-teacher strike in U.S. history on Feb. 18. Teachers and paraprofessionals, represented by the Chicago Teachers Union, reached a tentative agreement with Chicago International Charter Schools that will give teachers the limited class sizes they demanded. In addition, their pay and that of counselors and social workers will rise to the level of their Chicago Public School colleagues. Both sides agreed to a tentative contract after nine days of picketing, which began Feb. 5. (Chicago Sun Times, Feb. 16)

After nine months of contract negotiations, around 200 teachers withheld their labor at four CICS unionized schools. Five independent “school management organizations” operate these campuses with taxpayer dollars. The education workers won by securing the support of parents and students, who joined them on picket lines. Politicians also tweeted support; on Feb. 15, the Rev. Jesse Jackson urged parents and students to take their picket lines to the highways.

CTU leaders accused Civitas Education Partners, CICS’s management firm, of siphoning off $36 million in public money to line executives’ pockets while keeping teachers’ pay down. As CTU President Jesse Sharkey told the Sun-Times, “[We struck to] make sure funds go to our classrooms, not the three different layers of boardrooms this company uses to run its schools.”

Thanks to the strike, educators will see a pay raise of 35 percent by the last year of the 4-year contract and a reduction in class sizes to 28 students, capped at 30. Workers also won “sanctuary language” to protect undocumented students from federal immigration agencies. CTU spokesperson Chris Geovanis said, “This is a huge step forward in terms of reforming the charter industry, which basically banks its own personal profits on the fact that it pays workers less to do more.” (CTU.org, Feb. 18)

Southern unionization holds the line

2018 marked a disappointing year for labor nationally, due to the Supreme Court’s setback in the Janus decision. (WW, June 27, July 3) But a Feb. 4 Louisiana Weekly article shows why unions should have hope, given that union membership held ground in the South for the second straight year. (The South has traditionally had the lowest level of unionization in the U.S. due to its history of slavery and white supremacy, and the Taft-Hartley union-busting legislation of 1947.)

Chris Kromm’s article cited Bureau of Labor statistics showing the share of Southern workers belonging to unions barely declined between 2017-18, from 5 to 4.9 percent, while the number of organized workers there held steady at 6.1 percent. The number of organized Southern workers is 2.3 million, with another 546,000 workers in unions but not official members — due to Taft-Hartley “right to work” (for less) laws. This compares to the national average for union membership of 10.5 percent, which fell from 10.7 percent. (BLS.gov, Jan. 18) The author expects the gap to grow as a result of Janus.

Kromm reminds us of the successful struggle of the West Virginia teachers’ strike in February 2018: That struggle continues today. (WW, Feb. 12) The strike sparked large-scale protests in seven more states, including Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia. Kromm stresses: The rest of the U.S. should take its cues from the South!

Mass. energy workers win improved 6-year contract

After a 7-month lockout, 1,200 members of Steelworkers (USW) Locals 12003 and 12012 voted overwhelmingly on Jan. 7 to ratify a 6-year agreement with National Grid. The contract includes significant wage increases, preserves affordable benefits, provides additional health and safety provisions, and other protections for the natural-gas workers and residents. “The bottom line is when working people stand together and fight for each other, they win,” said District 4 Director John Shinn. “This contract is a win for these workers and for the entire community.” (usw.org, Jan. 7)

The contract struggle with National Grid, a British-owned energy company also serving three northeastern states, began when the  contract expired June 24. Instead of respecting “both public safety and economic justice,” NG chose to lock the workers out and use “a combination of contractors and management staff, neither of whom have the experience with live gas lines required to ensure public safety.” (usw.org, June 26)

That decision cost NG big time on Sept. 13, when dozens of explosions and fires in three towns north of Boston were triggered by a ruptured natural gas pipeline, killing at least one person, injuring 12 and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents from 39 homes. (Reuters, Sept. 13)

Capitalists beware: This is why it doesn’t pay to try to save money by shortchanging highly skilled workers in life-or-death jobs!

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