Striking CICS teachers protest brings Loop office to halt

Striking Chicago International Charter School teachers brought a busy Loop office building lobby to a standstill Wednesday afternoon on their seventh day of a work stoppage.

About 100 Chicago Teachers Union Members blocked the entrances to 1 N. Wacker to bring their grievances to the accounting firm office of CICS President and Treasurer Laura Thonn.

“Bring Laura Down!” chanted Shaquana Pickens, a paraprofessional at a CICS school. She was among striking teachers who took their grievances to the accounting firm office of CICS President and Treasurer Laura Thonn. | Rick Majewski / For the Sun-Times

Frazzled building security and gawking office workers struggled to make their way through the sit-in, which shifted to the center of the cavernous lobby to block a bank of elevators. Many in the late lunchtime crowd whipped out their cellphones to capture the raucous scene.

“It’s unacceptable that people [in charge] can have six-figure salaries and yet say they have no money to make sure our schools are properly invested in,” CICS Ralph Ellison High School English teacher Kimberly Randle said.

The teachers walked off the job Feb. 5 and say CICS’ management firm is sitting on $36 million in reserve funds that could be used to raise their pay to the level of Chicago Public Schools teachers while increasing ranks of social workers and counselors.

CICS says their reserve fund is considerably less and that the teachers’ salary demands would bankrupt the network within three years.

About a dozen Chicago police officers surveyed the peaceful protest and, after about 90 minutes of chants, escorted three teachers upstairs to deliver a letter of demands to Thonn’s private-sector colleagues. The executive in question was out of office and couldn’t be reached for comment.

CICS teachers bargaining team leader Jen Conant right) talks with Chicago police officers Wednesday in the lobby of 1 N. Wacker. | Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

CICS teachers bargaining team leader Jen Conant (right) talks with Chicago police officers Wednesday in the lobby of 1 N. Wacker. | Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

A CICS spokeswoman shared an email the charter network’s CEO Elizabeth Shaw sent to employees ahead of the demonstration urging workers not to call police.

“While we may have disagreements over what is in the best interest of our schools, it is their right to peacefully demonstrate. Please treat them with respect and compassion,” Shaw wrote.

CICS’ Ralph Ellison, Northtown, ChicagoQuest and Wrightwood campuses have been open with drastically reduced non-union staffing during the strike. Ten other non-unionized CICS campuses haven’t been affected.

No negotiations took place Wednesday. The sides were scheduled to be back at the table Thursday afternoon.

Building security and gawking office workers struggled to make their way through the sit-in, which shifted to the center of the cavernous lobby to block a bank of elevators. | Rick Majewski / For the Sun-Times

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