Minnesota Now Has Its First Two Unionized Charter Schools. 148 to Go.

Twin Cities German Immersion School is so charter, its PTO has its own logoIn Minnesota, union organizers are making inroads at charter schools as teachers increasingly feel they need power in numbers to affect positive change at the privatized schools.  

In January, teachers at the Twin Cities German Immersion School organized after minor clashes with higher-ups.  And in July the teachers and staff of the Community School of Excellence in St. Paul did the same.  The two schools are the first of Minnesota’s 150 charter schools to go union.

Nationwide, only 12 percent of charter schools are unionized.    

Education Minnesota President Denise Specht told Minnesota Public Radio, “When we get inquiries, more often than not it’s not about money; it’s about respect, it’s about having that voice, it’s about being able to make decisions about your school without fear or intimidation.”

At the heart of the problem is the charter school movement’s non-union pride.  Pro-corporate education advocates argue that unions protect ‘bad teachers’ from termination. The inverse — an inability to retain good teachers — goes unmentioned. But a lack of job security can stifle a quality educator’s ability to do what they think is necessary to help a student, for fear of retaliation.  

Wrongful termination was a common sentiment among the teachers who voted to unionize at the Twin Cities German Immersion School, according to Minnesota Public Radio, which quoted one teacher as saying, “If you are an at-will employee, you can be fired because your boss doesn’t like the color of your socks.”

And if it isn’t sock choice, it’s interest in a union voice. Jaclyn Scoglio-Walsh of Long Island, New York, was suddenly fired after years of excellence and praise because she labeled the union “a good resource”:

For five years running, her students topped the charts for achievement at the Riverhead Charter School in Calverton on Long Island. She was recognized for traveling to help children in Haiti and using that experience to broaden her students’ education. The school community was her “family,” and she worked nights and weekends on arts programs and test preparation.

At a back-to-school professional day in September 2013, second-year Principal Ray Ankrum named her the school’s “teacher of the year.”

Yet when Scoglio-Walsh praised her union at a staff development session last December, little did she know how prophetic her words would be.

Ankrum’s agenda called for a discussion of the Riverhead Charter School Employees Association and whether members support it. “The union is a great resource, especially when assisting members who need to file grievances,” Scoglio-Walsh responded.

Two weeks later the “teacher of the year” was fired.

For teachers at the Riverhead Charter School, one of the first in New York to unionize, a lack of tenure and due process has lead to anti-union members of the administration terminating all of those who support the union.  Situations like these emphasize the importance of collective bargaining, the reason charter schools should be regulated, and the necessity of ensuring these schools operate within state labor law.  NYSUT Vice President Paul Pecorale puts it plainly:

“Workers deserve to exercise their rights in the workplace. Whether in a regular public school or a charter school, we believe in collective bargaining and standing up to bullies who make arbitrary and capricious decisions for the sake of repressing the teachers’ voices in the classroom.”

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