Jun 6, 2022 - News

Old Town School reaches tentative teachers union deal

Blues guitar player
Big Bill Broonzy playing guitar at the Old Town School of Folk Music opening night, Dec. 1, 1957. Photo: Robert McCollough/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images

After nearly three years, the Old Town School of Folk Music teachers union has settled on a tentative labor contract.

Why it matters: If approved, the deal would mark the first collective bargaining agreement in the school's 65-year history.

Catch up fast: The union — which represents more than 200 teachers — and the school began negotiating in fall 2019. By spring 2021, a mediator had been brought in to help unstick negotiations.

  • The union recently turned up the pressure with a singalong rally in front of the school's Lincoln Square location to protest the slow process.
  • Contract details are not yet public, but Old Town management says final issues came down to pay and benefits.

What they're saying: Old Town executive director and CEO Jim Newcomb attributes the pace, in part, to special factors at the school, including the fact that neither of the parties "had been through negotiations before."

  • "Old Town is a pretty unique organization, so we could not find good, clean comparables at other organizations," Newcomb tells Axios. "We had to create the contract from whole cloth."
  • He says the new agreement allows the school to improve its "compensation package, provide greater job security and benefits, and … not overburden our tuition rates."

The other side: In a statement to Block Club Chicago, union presidents Bill Brickey and Jessica Martino called it a "historic day" for teachers who have "sown and nurtured the seeds of equity since our school's inception."

What's next: The union is expected to vote on the contract this month.

  • "This is a good thing for the school. It helps us put to rest some long-argued disagreements and retain the best teachers in the country," Newcomb says. "With its ratification, we will be able to look forward to years of labor peace."

💭 Thought bubble: Somewhere out there, Big Bill Broonzy is smiling.

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