Argument: Charter schools actively resist teacher unionization

Issue Report: Charter schools


Jordan Flaherty. “Rethinking New Orleans Schools”. Wire Tap. August 9, 2006 – The question of the role of the teachers’ union — previously the largest and perhaps strongest in the city — is another contentious issue tied up in the dispute over charters. The school board voted in the fall to lay off all but 61 of the 7,000 employees, and in June let the teachers’ union contract expire with little comment and no fanfare. Those rehired at charter schools return without their union.

For some, the union represents a cog in a broken system. For others, they represent an important black-led political base advocating for justice within the education system. “Elites of the city may prefer the teachers don’t come back because they represent an educated class of black New Orleans, with steady income, seniority, job protection,” Jacques Morial, community advocate and brother of former mayor Marc Morial, said at a recent forum.

Nathan Newman. “Union Busting at NYC charter schools”. TPM Cafe. November 22, 2005 – One reason unions are more successful in pubic sector organizing is that governments generally refrain from the union busting tactics of the private sectors. Teachers and other public employees have the chance to vote on whether to unionize without the illegal threats and management intimidation that is the staple of private sector organizing campaigns.

But that may be about to change in New York City charter schools, where rightwing foundations are teaming up to bring modern union busting to attack teachers unions in the expanding charter schools around the city.

This EdWize post has the details, but here’s the money quotes about the rightwing Atlantic Legal Foundation (ALF) efforts to promote anti-union attacks:

In its Charter School Advocacy Program, the ALF relies almost totally upon the work of the anti-union, management law firm, Jackson, Lewis, Schnitzler & Krupman…The conference unveiled the ALF’s “legal guide” to preventing unionization in New York Charter Schools, which was published under the same title as the conference. It was written by Jackson Lewis LLP, with Kaplan and Walsh functioning as the main co-authors.

Most disturbing, many mainstream leaders of the charter school movement, strongly tied to Mayor Bloomberg and the administration, participated in the ALF-sponsored conference and publicly proclaimed themselves dedicated to undermining teachers rights to unionize:

The consensus of this panel was, in the words of Norman Atkins, “good charter schools organize themselves in ways that keep unions out.” Only slightly more circumspect than the Jackson Lewis panel, this group declared as non-negotiable an “at will” employment process, with the right to hire and fire without any due process, the elimination of tenure, and a lengthy school day, week and year.

Steven Greenhouse and Jennifer Medina. “Teachers at 2 Charter Schools Plan to Join Union, Despite Notion of Incompatibility”. New York Times. January 13, 2009 – The United Federation of Teachers announced on Tuesday that it had organized teachers at two respected New York City charter schools, making inroads in a movement that has long sold itself as an alternative that is not hamstrung by union contracts and work rules.

Union officials said the teachers’ decision was an important step because the schools are part of the Knowledge Is Power Program, known as KIPP, which has 66 schools in 19 states and the District of Columbia and plays an influential role in national education debates. Advocates for charter schools — which are publicly funded but independently operated — expressed concern that unionization could undermine the schools’ effectiveness.

“A union contract is actually at odds with a charter school,” said Jeanne Allen, executive director of the Center for Education Reform, a Washington group that supports charter schools.

“As long as you have nonessential rules that have more to do with job operations than with student achievement,” she said, “you are going to have a hard time with accomplishing your mission.”

Several teachers at the two schools — KIPP Amp, a middle school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and KIPP Infinity, a middle school in Harlem — said the union organizing drive came about because they wanted a stronger voice on the job and because the demands on them were so rigorous. They also said that they wanted to insure a fair discipline and evaluation system.

Darran Simon and Sarah Carr. “New Orleans new School Board marks drastic shift in philosophy”. Times-Picayune. October 9, 2008 – For many years leading up to Hurricane Katrina, most Orleans Parish School Board members regularly fought proposals for a state takeover and charter schools. They often courted teachers union support — then a big factor in getting elected — and decried school choice and state intervention as ploys to dismantle and weaken the public education system.

The first School Board election since Hurricane Katrina, however, marks a major philosophical shift.

Most of the five new members generally support a 2005 state takeover of schools as well as the city’s burgeoning chartering movement. Most members are unlikely to back the teachers union or any bid to regain collective bargaining rights immediately.

Stephen Maloney. “United Teachers of N.O. seek post-Katrina identity”. New Orleans City Business. August 15, 2007 – Collective bargaining agreements allowing unions to negotiate teacher contracts are in limbo in New Orleans schools, but United Teachers of New Orleans officials say they are not obsolete.

A sheaf of legal filings against the Orleans Parish School Board, several press conferences and a march on City Hall were all designed to help bring the union back as a player in the ongoing struggle to revamp the city’s public school system.