This is the story of an enthusiastic young teacher who eagerly sought a position in a Michigan charter school, only to be disillusioned by the administration’s indifference to teachers and their views about their work.

When teachers in the charter school became frustrated by their powerlessness, they decided to form a union. Bad idea. The enthusiastic young teacher was out of a job and out of teaching.

The story is bigger than just one person, however. It is the story of how charters began with the sponsorship of the nation’s most important union leader, Albert Shanker, but is now vehemently opposed to unions.

Nationally, 93% of charter schools are non-union. Their teachers are at-will employees.

In Michigan, 79% of the charters operate for profit.

This was not what Shanker had in mind.

When reformers wonder why unions oppose charter schools, it is because the overwhelming majority of charter schools do not permit their teachers to join a union and to have a voice in their working conditions, in the curriculum, or discipline policies, or anything else.

The money behind the charter movement never wanted unions in their schools.

[Michigan’s] focus on free markets and privatization — 79 percent of Michigan’s charter schools are run by for-profit management companies— set a somewhat strained tone between the local unions and the charter movement. Nationally a similar phenomenon was occurring, resulting in the AFT and the National Education Association, the two largest teachers unions, taking national stances against charters as well. In 1993, one year after the first charter opened, Shanker himself renounced the idea, calling charters an anti-union “gimmick.”

As unions pushed against charter schools, the education reform movement shoved back with a narrative of schools in crisis, which largely blamed incompetent teachers, and the unions protecting them, for the achievement gap. Charter schools could do their part in this generation’s civil rights battle — education equality — by using their flexibility to get around unions and collective bargaining, and instead stand up for hiring-and-firing latitude.

While the Michigan Association of Public School Academies’ spokesperson Buddy Moorehouse says the coalition for charter school leaders “does not have an official stance on unions” (MT tried getting in touch with president Dan Quisenberry on several occasions but he would only speak through Moorehouse), their website indicates partiality explaining that most charter schools don’t have unions because they “prefer the ability to [be] innovative and remove the red tape element when a teacher is not performing.”

The Great Lakes Education Project, a Michigan-based charter advocacy group, more accurately highlights the dichotomy between unions and charter schools. Funded largely by the right-to-work, union adverse DeVos clan, the organization has been forthright in its declaration of union failures, stating on its website in 2004 that unions are “status quo forces looking to protect their cash cow.”

The entire article is worth reading to understand the politics of unions and charters. Unions are now trying to organize charter teachers, and they hail each school that they win as a big success, but the reality is that the charter movement is at heart a union-busting movement. Its leaders are hostile to unions, as they are to public audits and any other intrusion on their freedom to operate as they wish with public money.