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New Report: Status of Charter School Unionization
posted by: Alix | December 09, 2011, 03:21 PM   

A new report by the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington sheds light on the status of charter school unionization nationwide. In a climate where charter schools laws are changing dramatically and teacher union membership is declining, the prospect of charter schools unionizing has become a very real threat to the flexible, innovative environments these schools were meant to cultivate. This report attempts to analyze the status of unionization by examining why teachers unionize and the diverse collective bargaining agreements of unionized charters, however it misses the mark in addressing the disconnect between the charter movement and bargaining agreements in general.

In examining the data, the report finds that roughly 12% of the nearly 5,000 American charter schools are unionized. Of those 12%, half are required by state law to be part of the local district contract. The other 6% are unionized either because the founders chose to do so, or because the teachers voted to unionize. Notably, when charter schools unionize against the interests of the school's culture or administration, report interviewees say it is "most commonly a result of a breakdown in trust between labor and management or just poor treatment of employees."

This "breakdown of trust" is at the heart of why most charters unionize, and what unions are looking for in trying to gain membership in the charter school movement. When teachers at a Chicago charter voted to unionize a few years ago, the school's director said simply, "Charter schools have been too successful for the unions to ignore." Union leaders know that the charter movement is here to stay, and while they have spent millions of dollars lobbying to stop their expansion, their efforts have proved unsuccessful. Seemingly the unions are operating under the "if you can't beat them, unionize them" school of thought.

Teacher unions are recognizing that charters are a resource for supplementing their freefalling membership nationwide. In luring disenfranchised teachers to the union, NEA and AFT operatives set their sights on charter schools in the midst of turbulent transition and reap the benefits of more dues paying members.

The fact is unionization of charter school teachers has become a high-profile issue. Evidenced by the national media coverage of some of the smallest charters falling prey to union interests, the stories produce a firestorm of activity, legal challenges, and heated rhetoric about what charter schools were designed to operate as in the first place.

While the report finds that many of the collective bargaining agreements are more flexible than their traditional public counterparts, the very notion of charter school unionization is a severe blow to the overall charter ethos. Stifling contracts and unnecessary rules are the antithesis of the innovative, collaboration and transparent environments charter were designed to cultivate.

In recognizing why these schools turn to the union, it is perfectly understandable for a professional educator to worry about job security under new leadership or during a turbulent period. However, teachers and administrators desperately need to know that charter school teachers have options that don't include spending upwards of $1,000 a year on a union.

The non-union movement is a perfect option for teachers in charter schools looking for membership in a professional association. Not only is the Association of American Educators a fraction of the cost, at just $15 per month, but supportive of the charter school philosophy. In serving charter school members from coast to coast, AAE recognizes the need for professional services, such as legal and liability coverage, via a modern, professional, and affordable approach.

This report should serve as a wakeup call to the charter school movement nationwide. Teachers and administratorsā€“examine the options and investigate a system that will work for your school. Union representation eliminates the environment that gives charter schools an edge. Don't let it happen in your school.

What do you think about charter school unionization?
Comment below.

Comments (2)Add Comment
Judy, Charter School Teacher
written by Judy, December 12, 2011

Mary,

AAE does provide individualized support for charter school teachers. I also teach in a CA charter school. Through my membership with AAE, myself and a group of teachers were able to consult with an attorney within 24 hours of a workplace issue. I can't speak highly enough about their services and far superior product.
Unionizing Charter
written by Mary, San Diego, CA, December 09, 2011

I'm not familiar with AAE except that it is the non-union alternative to getting legal representation for a smaller fee.

At my start-up charter in SD, I have found our local union, San Diego Educational Association (SDEA) extremely supportive in helping us build a stronger school.

I think that Alix is absolutely right in that we charter teachers voted to unionize because we do not trust our administrator. We were hired on, trusting her and lured in. Now we are fighting to keep our school afloat because of mismanagement and financial problems and helping the school. Of course our teaching jobs are of highest interest, and our students next, etc...

However, I don't agree that teacher unions are out to help shut down schools, but to come as a resource of information and support. Meanwhile, as we are in the process of collective bargaining, we are not even paying any dues until our contract is ratified.

I've had union reps come to the school for support with the admin on very short notice. I'm wondering if AAE has similar local support for teachers in situations like the one we teachers are finding ourselves in...

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