Union attempts to take over charter schools

Union attempts to take over charter schools

If you can't beat them, join them.

Paul Kersey
Director of Labor Policy

Teachers at charter schools operated by the United Neighborhood Organization, or UNO, are in a tricky position, caught between a union that is looking to expand its membership and control over public education in Chicago and a charter operator that is rolling out the red carpet for the union.

The vast majority of charter schools, nationwide and in Chicago, are not unionized, and the flexibility that teachers and schools gain from not having a typical union contract does seem to make a difference – one researcher found that nonunion charters in Milwaukee performed better academically. The best nine non-selective public schools in Chicago are all nonunion charter schools.

There’s a reason for this: without the restrictive terms of a typical union contract, charter schools are able to reward top-performing teachers and experiment with the most promising teaching methods.

But UNO is willing – too willing perhaps – to buck the trend. It has announced that representatives of the Chicago Teachers Union will be given access to its teachers on school grounds, and at the same time will give contact information for its members to the union.

The decision to turn over personal information opens the door to the harassment of individual teachers, especially those who prefer to work without a union. Making things worse, labor law does not guarantee that teachers will be allowed a secret-ballot vote.

The most likely next step for the union will be to collect cards signed by teachers, indicating their support for the union. Once they have collected cards signed by a majority of teachers, UNO could conceivably recognize the union based on the cards alone.

This process, known as “card-check”, is an extremely unreliable and risky way to determine whether or not teachers support a union. Unions typically lose support between collecting cards and the holding of a secret-ballot vote. Workers often sign cards out of confusion or to avoid conflict with union officials, not because they genuinely support the union. Unions have resorted to harassing tactics in card-check campaigns.

Unionization could ruin UNO schools. Last September it waged a strike against Chicago Public Schools, and is still wrangling with the district over plans to close underused and low-performing school buildings. CTU President Karen Lewis has said that she doesn’t consider charters to be real schools. She may be unable to eliminate charters completely in Chicago, but if CTU can organize charter schools and impose its typical contract terms, the union can probably sabotage them from within.

UNO is giving up the academic advantages that come with a nonunion teaching staff.  Its teachers are in danger of having their rights shortchanged and having a union imposed on them that does not have their support. This organizing campaign is going in a direction that should trouble supporters of charter schools nationwide.

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