KIPP leadership is not pleased by the efforts of KIPP teachers and other staff in Columbus who want to join a union. Major funders of KIPP, like the Walton Family Foundation, don’t like unions. Some of their teachers object to their “Union-busting” tactics.

Megan Henry of the Columbus Dispatch wrote this article, which was also published in USA Today.

The Ohio Federation of Teachers is accusing KIPP Columbus of using a “unionbusting persuasion campaign” as the charter school’s employees attempt to unionize.

The campaign has involved mandatory and voluntary meetings with “antiunion consultants” and a visit from KIPP’s new CEO Shavar Jeffries, according to OFT President Melissa Cropper.

“Public education funding should be used to educate Ohio students. It should not be used to persuade and intimidate workers who are exercising their legally protected right to organize a union,” Cropper said.

KIPP Columbus received at least $15 million in public funding for the 2021-22 school year, which represents the majority of its funding, union organizers said.

“It is incumbent on KIPP to spend that funding on education, not union-busting,” Cropper said. “If KIPP wants to claim that they are paying for their union-busting through a different source of funding, we feel that is essentially a shell game.”

Teachers, social workers, paraprofessionals, intervention specialists and student life coordinators from KIPP’s primary, elementary, middle and high school are attempting to organize as the KIPP Columbus Alliance for Charter Teachers and Staff (KIPP Columbus ACTS) through OFT.

“We believe that unfair labor practices have occurred, and we may file formal charges on that,” Cropper said. “Currently, we are calling on KIPP to do the right thing and allow their employees to have a secret ballot union election without intimidation and anti-union lobbying from management.”

The Dispatch asked KIPP Columbus officials to address the allegations of union-busting, but they didn’t respond to those specific questions in their written response.

“We are encouraging all of our colleagues to consider all relevant information – from multiple sources – about what it could mean to join a union and what the collective bargaining process entails,” KIPP Columbus said in a statement. “Many of our colleagues have asked questions about these topics, and we are working diligently to ensure that those questions are answered promptly.”

Zach Usmani, a social worker at KIPP elementary and a member of the organizing committee, said the anti-union consultants didn’t share their names during the two-hour meeting he was required to attend.

“It seems very strange that they don’t want to share any information,” Usmani said. “It makes me question what’s going on. People are now even more frustrated because they are getting pulled from their students to go to these meetings.”

Jeffries took over as KIPP’s CEO the first week of January and visited KIPP Columbus that same week, but staff questioned the purpose of his visit.

KIPP Columbus, which is part of a national network of college preparatory schools, has about 2,000 students.

“He used this platform to again push anti-union messaging on our staff,” Usmani said.

Jeffries is planning a tour of all KIPP regions and has already been to Atlanta, Boston, New York and Philadelphia, said KIPP Foundation spokesperson Maria Alcón-Heraux. He also plans to go to Washington, D.C. and New Orleans in the coming weeks, Alcón-Heraux said.

“Shavar Jeffries spoke to KIPP Columbus staff and students about his vision for more alignment across KIPP regions as we deliver educational excellence and equity at a nation-leading level,” Alcón-Heraux said of the visit here.

In December, KIPP Columbus charter schools administration declined to voluntarily recognize KIPP Columbus ACTS.

“While we respect our colleagues’ rights to join a union, we believe that our current model is the best way to create an innovative learning environment for students while supporting and empowering our valued teachers and staff,” KIPP Columbus said in a statement.

Seventy-eight percent of KIPP Columbus’ roughly 130-person staff signed union cards. Union cards were filed with the National Labor Relations Board on Nov. 15, but KIPP Columbus hired the Vorys legal firm, which filed a legal challenge with the NLRB on Nov. 16, which has delayed a secret-ballot union election. An NLRB election won’t be scheduled until the legal challenge is resolved, which could take months, Cropper said.

KIPP Columbus began in 2008 as KIPP Journey Academy with 50 students in the fifth grade at a former Columbus City Schools building in Linden and has since expanded to its present 150-acre campus at 2900 Inspire Drive on the city’s Northeast Side. That campus houses the KIPP Columbus Elementary, KIPP Columbus Primary, KIPP Columbus Middle, KIPP Columbus High, the KIPP Columbus Battelle Environmental Center, the KIPP Columbus Early Learning Center, and the KIPP Athletics & Wellness Complex.

KIPP teachers and staff are unionized at the nonprofit public charter school’s operations in New York City, Baltimore and St. Louis.

If the union is approved by KIPP Columbus’ educators, it would be the 10th charter school to join the OFT. The other OFT unionized charter schools in Ohio are in the Cleveland area: Stepstone Academy in Cleveland, Menlo Park Academy in Cleveland, three schools in the Summit Academy chain (Parma, Painesville and Lorain) and four schools in the ACCEL charter chain.

mhenry@dispatch.com @megankhenry