Sunday, June 18, 2017

Cesar Chavez Charter School in D.C. finally has a union

A SmallTalk Salute goes out to the teachers and staff at Cesar Chavez Public Charter School at Chavez Prep Middle School in D.C. who voted 31-2 Thursday to unionize, the first time a charter in the District has taken such a step. The educators organized through the District of Columbia Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.

Staff at the school say they want to unionize to give teachers a voice in decision-making. Jenny Tomlinson, the school librarian, told WAMU in May that staff hoped unionizing would reduce teacher turnover, increase teacher input in the curriculum and attract more experienced teachers.

If you were listening to Hitting Left on Friday, you heard news of this victory from ChiACTS Pres. Chris Baehrend who was our in-studio guest along with CTU's Political and Legislative Dir. Stacy Davis Gates. If you missed it, you can still listen to the podcast where our guests discuss the planned merger of ChiACTS and the CTU Local #1. The Chicago Tribune recently referred to Chicago as the "epicenter" of charter school unionization.

When you think about it, it's kind of amazing that for all these years, there's been schools named after the renowned union leader, Cesar Chavez, that resisted unionization and collective bargaining rights for teachers. Detroit's Cesar Chavez Charter School was unionized back in 2013.

I'm remembering back 10 years ago, debating with anti-union charter school backers and "choice" advocates. I pointed out back then, the hypocrisy of naming a charter school after a great union organizer like Chavez, where teachers were working without a contract, without a real voice in educational decisions, or without union representation.

Stacy Davis Gates (CTU) and Chris Baehrend (ChiACTS).
They called our arguments "preposterous". DFER's snarky response was, "No one's holding a gun to their heads." In other words, if teachers really wanted a union they would have one, or if they didn't like the conditions at school like Chavez, they were free to leave and go elsewhere.

Turns out they really wanted one.

Their arguments ring even more hollow today and discount the years of charter operators' active resistance to teacher unions, including the use of high-paid union-busting consultants and claims that charters were actually "private schools"and that teachers weren't really considered by law to be public employees.

Yes, it's taken a while. But all that's changed now as charter unions are starting to take hold nationally. The American Federation of Teachers says it now represents 234 charter schools in 15 states, including Chavez in D.C.

Lots more are on the way.

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