Archives for category: Unions

http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_grind/2016/09/the_lengths_that_charter_schools_go_to_when_their_teachers_try_to_form_unions.html

Ninety-three percent of charters are non-union. This is part of their business plan. Teachers work long hours and turn over frequently. This keeps costs low.

Sometimes charter teachers try to form a union. The management fights them, as big business did decades ago.

This article in Salon shows how charters fight to keep unions out.

Hella Winston reports that charter management fights unions by intimidating teachers, even calling in cops. Teachers have no rights.

Why do they want a union?

“Alliance educators began their push to unionize in large measure, Mernick says, because they were concerned their employer was not “actualizing its core values,” including the establishment of smaller classes and a personalized learning environment for its students, most of whom are poor and Latino or black. Mernick says that teachers who have signed on to the union effort want more input into decisions regarding curriculum and pedagogy. They’re also questioning how the school assesses their performance and discloses how it spends its funds. Making changes in these areas, Mernick believes, will help Alliance retain the kinds of qualified teachers it prides itself on hiring….


Of the non-Alliance schools, there were 11 where administrators held captive-audience meetings—one-on-one or group meetings called by management and held on company time and property, in which management is legally permitted to share anti-union opinions; 12 where teachers brought charges of retaliatory action or threats against teachers involved in organizing; and eight schools where administrators made jurisdictional or legal challenges intended to impede unionization. Schools in the Alliance network had incidents of all three, as well.

Captive-audience meetings are one of the most common experiences teachers reported. These meetings—long opposed by labor advocates, who argue that they give bosses undue power to pressure and coerce employees, who have no legal right to hold their own such meetings—are typically called by management in the period after teachers go public with a desire to unionize and before a formal union vote.”

Mike Klonsky writes about the latest anti-union screed from the Chicago Tribune.

Funny thing about the Trib: they complain about the union but not about the Mayor’s indifference to the children of Chicago.

You know this story already, as it was decided a few days ago, but it is nice to see the headline in the Washington Post:

National Labor Relations Board decides charter schools are private corporations, not public schools

The National Labor Relations Board decided in two separate cases last week that — as far as federal labor law is concerned — charter schools are not public schools but private corporations.

The decisions apply only to the specific disputes from which they arose, involving unionization efforts at charter schools in New York and in Pennsylvania. But they plunge the labor board into a long-running debate over the nature of charter schools: publicly funded, privately run institutions that enroll about 3 million students nationwide.

Charter school advocates have long argued that charters are public schools because they are tuition-free, open-enrollment institutions funded primarily with tax dollars. But union leaders and other critics describe charters as private entities that supplant public schools, which are run by elected officials, with nonprofit and for-profit corporations that are run by unelected boards that are unaccountable to voters.

In its recent decisions, both issued Aug. 24, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Hyde Leadership Charter School in Brooklyn and the Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School are — like other government contractors — private corporations that receive taxpayer dollars. In the New York case, for example, the board found that even though state law describes charter schools as existing “within the public school system,” the schools were not directly established by a government entity and the people who administer them are not accountable to public officials or to voters.

“Hyde was not established by a state or local government, and is not itself a public school,” reads the board’s majority opinion, signed by Democrats Kent Hirozawa and Lauren McFerran.

The decisions mean that the schools’ employees must organize under the National Labor Relations Act, which applies to private-sector employees, rather than under state laws that apply to public-sector employees.

This is not the first time that the NLRB has ruled that a charter school is a private nonprofit corporation, not a state actor. In several previous cases, charter operators fought unionization by contending that they were not public schools and thus not subject to state labor law.

In Philadelphia in 2011, the New Media Technology Charter School insisted that it was not a public school, as it resisted efforts by its staff to unionize, even though it was publicly funded with $5 million annually. Even as it was fighting unionization, the leaders of the school were indicted by a federal grand jury in April and charged with stealing $522,000 in taxpayer funds partly to support a small private school they controlled, a health food restaurant, and a health food store. The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board refused to accept jurisdiction over labor negotiations at this or other charter schools because the schools were not public schools subject to state oversight. The NLRB took jurisdiction over the battle at New Media, which insisted it was not a public school; the staff joined the union. The founders of the school were convicted and sentenced to jail. Founded with Gates money, the school closed in June 2016.

There was a similar NLRB ruling in 2012 in the case of the Chicago Mathematics & Science Academy. The school (a Gulen-affiliated school) insisted it was not a public school. The NLRB agreed because it was not created by the state or governed by the state.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard a case in 2009 from Arizona, where a charter school teacher claimed that he was fired and defamed by his employer. He wanted a hearing to clear his name. The Court ruled that the charter school was not a “state actor,” even though state law defines charters as “public schools,” dismissing the employee’s charges against it. The Court concluded that the charter operator was a private corporation with a contract to provide a public service and was not bound by the same laws as public schools.

When the founders of a charter school in California were indicted for misappropriating $200,000, the California Charter School Association submitted an amicus brief in their defense, contending that the charter was operated as a private nonprofit corporation, and thus its founders could not be convicted of theft of public money. Despite their plea, the founders were convicted.

As it happens, I wrote a post about these issues in 2013. Be sure to read Julian Vasquez Heilig’s link on charters and discipline.

Not even state law can turn a privately managed charter school into a “public school.”

Steven Singer writes here about the corporate reformers’ war against teachers’ unions. In the comfortable, well-heeled world of hedge fund managers, they have every right to lead the fight to reform the public schools, but the unions do not. The unions don’t care about kids; teachers don’t care about kids. Only hedge fund managers really truly care about kids. Why should teachers or their unions have anything to say about their working conditions or their pay? Are they just greedy and selfish. So what if teachers earn less that the hedge funders’ secretaries?

Singer says the battle over the future of public schools has reached a critical juncture. The corporate reformers have lost control of the narrative. They want to hide behind benign names, like “Families for Excellent Schools,” hoping to hoodwink the public into thinking they are the families of children who want charter schools, when in fact, they are billionaires who live in places like Greenwich or Darien, Connecticut, and have never actually seen a public school, other than driving past it.

They don’t want the public to know that they want to divert money from public schools to the privately managed charters, but they can’t admit it so they say that are “improving public schools.” Which they are not.

To understand reform-talk, you have to recognize that words mean the opposite of what they usually mean.

Helping public schools means taking resources away until they collapse.

Improving academic achievement means testing kids until they cry and the test scores have lost any meaning.

Singer writes:


Their story goes like this – yes, there is a battle going on over public education. But the two sides fighting aren’t who you think they are.

The fight for public schools isn’t between grassroots communities and well-funded AstroTurf organizations, they say. Despite the evidence of your eyes, the fight isn’t between charter school sycophants and standardized test companies, on the one hand, and parents, students and teachers on the other.

No. It’s actually between people who really care about children and those nasty, yucky unions.

It’s nonsense, of course. Pure spin….


When corporate education reformers sneeringly deprecate their opponents as mere unions, they’re glossing over an important distinction. Opposition to privatization and standardization policies doesn’t come from the leadership of the NEA and AFT. It comes from the grassroots. This is not a top down initiative. It is bottom up.

This is how it’s always been. There is no political organization directing the fight to save public education. The Democrats certainly aren’t overly concerned with reigning in charter schools. It was grassroots Democrats – some of whom are also union members – who worked to rewrite the party platform to do so. The Clinton campaign is not directing anyone to opt out of standardized testing. However, voters are demanding that Clinton be receptive to their needs – and some of them are union members.

There is no great union conspiracy to fight these policies. It’s called public opinion, and it’s changing.

That’s what scares the standardizers and privatizers. They’ve had free run of the store for almost two decades and now the public is waking up.

They’re desperately trying to paint this as a union movement when it’s not. Unions are involved, but they aren’t alone. And moreover, their involvement is not necessarily an impediment.

The needs of the community and the needs of teachers are the same.

Both want excellent public schools.

Both want the best for our students.

Both want academic policies that will help students learn – not help corporations cash in.

And both groups want good teachers in the classroom – not bad ones!

The biggest lie to have resonated with the public is this notion that teachers unions are only concerned with shielding bad teachers from justice. This is demonstrably untrue.

Unions fight to make sure teachers get due process, but they also fight to make sure bad teachers are shown the door….

Unions stand in direct opposition to the efforts of corporate vultures trying to swoop in and profit off of public education. Teachers provide a valuable service to students. If your goal is to reduce the cost of that service no matter how much that reduces its value to students, you need a weak labor force. You need the ability to reduce salary so you can claim the savings as profit.

THAT’S why corporate education reformers hate teachers and their unions. We make it nearly impossible to swipe school budgets into their own pockets.

Mercedes Schneider posts here the dissents of the three judges who wanted to rehear the case. The majority of four denied the rehearing, agreeing with the lower court.

This just in:

WASHINGTON—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on the California Supreme Court’s decision to reject the plaintiffs’ petition for review in Vergara v. California.

“I am relieved by the court’s decision declining an appeal of the unanimous California Court of Appeal ruling upholding California educators’ due process rights. The billionaire-funded attack, from its inception, tried to pit our children against their teachers—people who make a difference in our children’s lives every day—rather than understand and solve the real problems ailing public education. Now that this chapter is closed, we must embrace our shared responsibility to help disadvantaged kids by supporting them so they can reach their full potential. While that starts with teachers, it also means providing programs and services that engage students and address their well-being.

“I hope this decision closes the book on the flawed and divisive argument that links educators’ workplace protections with student disadvantage. Instead, as the expert evidence clearly showed—and the Court of Appeal carefully reasoned—it was the discretionary decisions of some administrators, rather than the statutes themselves, that contributed to the problems cited by the plaintiffs.

“It is now well past time that we move beyond damaging lawsuits like Vergara that demonize educators and begin to work with teachers to address the real issues caused by the massive underinvestment in public education in this country. The state of California, like many others, remains in the throes of a serious teacher shortage. We need to hire, support and retain the best teachers, not pit parents against educators in a pointless blame game that does nothing to help disadvantaged students pursue their dreams.”

– See more at: http://www.aft.org/press-release/afts-weingarten-calif-supreme-courts-decision-decline-hear-vergara#sthash.ZruIIJjh.dpuf

In a major victory for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, the state Supreme Court ruled that the city’s School Reform Commision may not unilaterally cancel the teachers’ contract, as it sought to do in 2014.

“This is a total and complete repudiation of the position taken by the SRC when it surreptitiously met on Oct. 6, 2014, and passed a resolution to cancel the terms and conditions of the PFT contract,” said PFT president Jerry Jordan. “It means that the SRC has to honor the contract, and it’s my hope the SRC will return to the bargaining table and negotiate a contract with the PFT.”

“At that meeting, when the District said it was facing a funding shortfall of $71 million the following year despite closing dozens of schools and eliminating thousands of jobs, the commission announced that it was restructuring teachers’ health benefits to save $44 million. Commissioners said they would use the money to restore counselors, teacher aides, language classes and other services that had been drastically cut back.”

The Chicago Teachers Union spoke out against the draconian layoffs and budget cuts imposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

STATEMENT
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact Stephanie Gadlin
August 9, 2016 312/329-6250 (office)

CTU President Karen Lewis warns of inevitable strike should CPS enforce cuts to wages and benefits of public school educators

CHICAGO—The following is a partial transcript of CTU President Karen Lewis’ remarks from Monday’s news conference in response to the new Chicago Public Schools budget:

“I am Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union. I am joined by fellow officers, Vice President Jesse Sharkey and Financial Secretary Maria Moreno. We are also joined by a group of rank and file teachers—all who are obtaining their national board certification, which is one of the highest distinctions in the nation for our profession. And contrary to the governor’s beliefs, all of whom can read, write, add, think…and vote him out of office.

“On Monday, August 29th, CTU members—teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians—will report to their schools and classrooms. They will be returning to work without a labor agreement amidst severe budget cuts and threats to their profession, income and benefits.

“Our members are returning to more than 500 school buildings that are filthy due to bad CPS outsourcing; with contaminated pipes that may have exposed children and employees to lead poisoning; and in a climate where random gun violence and neighborhood conflicts have gripped significant parts of our city in fear.

“Our members are returning to campuses where their colleagues have disappeared, by no fault of their own, but because of mandates from the Board that principals reduce positions and cut school budgets to the marrow. Fewer employees—including teachers’ aides—mean enormous class sizes. The more students in a classroom mean fewer minutes of personalized instruction for each student.

“And, though educators have already returned about $2 billion in salary and benefits to the district, with $100 million being returned this year alone, we are being asked to give more when there is nothing left to give. Understand that budget cuts impact students; they include cuts to programming, staffing and services.

“Our special needs students have been hit the hardest, and CPS continues to gut special education at record speed. Even as children are impacted by post-traumatic stress disorder due to rampant violence and death—including police shootings caught on video—CPS reduces social workers, school psychologists and nurses.

“Veteran educators, many of whom are nationally board certified, have been driven out of the district, out of our city, and some, out of the state. Just as highly skilled public university professors are being driven to smaller school districts in Florida and elsewhere, we are seeing teachers and good principals leaving CPS in record numbers. People go where they can engage in their profession, have significant impact on students and where their careers aren’t threatened at every turn.

“The Chicago Teachers Union has been clear. If the Board of Education imposes a 7 percent slash in our salaries, we will move to strike. Cutting our pay is unacceptable, and for years, the ‘pension pickup’ as the Board has called it, was part of our compensation package. This was not a perk. This was negotiated compensation with the Board of Education.

“The CTU has also been very clear—CPS is broke on purpose. Instead of chasing phantom revenue in Springfield and in between the seat cushions of Chicago taxpayers, Mayor Emanuel and the Chicago City Council can show true leadership and guts by reinstating the corporate head tax, declaring a TIF surplus and fighting for progressive taxation that would pull in revenue from the uber-wealthy in our city and state. The rich must pay their fair share.

“Chicago’s teachers are required to live in the city of Chicago. This means the mayor is telling us that even though he has stolen our raises, cut our benefits such as steps and lanes, and now threatens an even further pay cut of 7 percent, as taxpayers we must pay more and more and more for everything under the sun. None of that new revenue, however, will even go toward schools. This is absurd thinking.

“That is why the Chicago Teachers Union will attend all CPS budget hearings and call for truthful and fair taxation for CPS schools. Our members will do what they do best—educate the public, including parents, about the lies within CPS’ funding formula, the Board’s budgeting process and why the school district continues to cry broke.

“Cuts to our pay and benefits must be negotiated. We have been bargaining in good faith since the middle of last year and we have yet to come to an agreement. At some point a line has to be drawn in the sand.

“Chicago teachers do not seek to go on strike. We want to return to clean, safe, resourced schools. We want a fair contract. We will continue to partner with parents and community residents in fighting for the schools our students deserve.

“But we will not accept an imposed pay cut.

“To parents, play close attention to what is going on over the next few weeks so you can be prepared should CPS force educators back on the picket line. To CTU members, we’ve been telling you for months now to save as much money as you can.

“We do not know if Mayor Emanuel can stand another teachers strike, especially at a time when confidence in his leadership is at an all-time low, and when the city is in an uproar over another police shooting of an unarmed African-American youth.

“Do not force our hand.”

In an interview published in The Hechinger Report, Randi Weingarten expresses her belief that Hillary Clinton will change course from the Obama education policies. She expects that a President Clinton would select a new Secretary of Education, one who shares her expressed belief in strengthening public schools and supporting teachers.

Emmanuel Felton, who conducted the interview, writes:

While teachers unions have long been a key pillar in Democratic Party, they’ve been on the outs with President Barack Obama’s education department. The administration doubled down on Republican President George W. Bush’s educational agenda of holding schools accountable for students’ test scores. Under the administration’s $3 billion School Improvement Grant program, for example, struggling schools had options to implement new accountability systems for teachers, remove staff, be closed or converted into charter schools, the vast majority of which employ non-unionized staff.

These policies devastated some local teachers unions, including Philadelphia’s, which lost 10,000 members during the Obama and Bush administrations. Weingarten expects Clinton to totally upend this agenda, and hopes she won’t reappoint Education Secretary John King, who was just confirmed by the senate in March.

From the day he was elected, President Obama decided to maintain the punitive policies of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and made standardized testing even more consequential. He and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan pressed for higher standards, tougher accountability, and more choices, especially charter schools. They used Race to the Top to promote the evaluation of teachers by their students’ test scores, a policy that cost hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of dollars, with nothing to show for it.

Let’s all hope that Hillary Clinton, if elected, will recognize the damage done by the Bush-Obama education agenda and push the “reset” button for a federal policy that helps children, educators, and public schools.

John Thompson, teacher and historian in Oklahoma, writes here about the conflict between Democrats for Education Reform and educators and how it might affect the next administration. It is to be expected that the misnamed DFER would achieve its policy goals in a Trump administration: charters, school choice, the elimination of teacher tenure and unions. But what about in a Clinton administration? Why should an anti-teacher, anti-public school group have a “seat at the table”?

Teachers and our unions are uniquely poised to help unite the Democratic Party. Not only do educators celebrate the difference of opinions, but it’s our job to do so in a respectful manner. Our professional practice embodies the need to listen, to disagree agreeably and, often, help synthesize seemingly incompatible perspectives. Not only do we model the sharing of ideas in the classroom, our edu-political practice illustrates the type of democratic principles known as the “loyal opposition.” Teachers and our unions defend our profession and promote the welfare of our students by treating our opponents as opponents, not enemies.

My students were more socially conservative than I was. They were aware that I was a former ACLU/OK board member and a pro-choice lobbyist, but they knew that all of their opinions, values, and judgments would be treated with equal respect. They also knew how much I preferred addressing persons who disagreed with me on abortion with the term, “pro-life,” not “anti-choice.” Teaching our Government class with an open door produced a bonus. Students, patrons, or other visitors continually joined our debates. Often, parents would send their children back to school with their counter-arguments about politics, culture, and history. One junior brought his pastor to class to present an alternative worldview, and he concluded with the words, “We can count the seeds in an apple, but not the apples in a seed.”

The metaphor speaks to the Democratic Party Convention. We can count Bernie’s delegates, but we can’t even guess as to the number of future voters and activists unleashed by “the Bern.” In the meantime, we should unite behind Hillary.

And, that brings us to the second contribution that teachers, our professional organizations, and our representatives can make. Where would public education be if we embodied the ethos of “my way or the highway?” Unlike those with more money and power, we need to be trustworthy participants in the team effort to advance equity and justice. Educators know that losses are a part of the game. Even so, teachers have participated in some of America’s greatest victories; we were loyal members of the coalitions that carved out civil rights breakthroughs, that established a social safety net, and expanded economic opportunity.

As I often explained to my students, politics is a contact sport. Elbows are thrown but taking out your opponent’s knees is never appropriate. This is especially pertinent to contemporary school reform. Although this is heresy to top-down reformers, teachers know that in our world, we win some and we lose some. Our political defeats may be bitter, but they sure don’t sting as much as the all-to-frequent losses of our students. And that brings us to the coverage of Democrat for Education Reform’s (DFER’s) – or should I say “FER’s” – troubles.

When they were racking up political victory after political victory, DFER celebrated as if defeating adults was their true purpose. Alexander Russo explains how DFER benefitted from the Obama administration’s $5 billion Race to the Top and millions of dollars from Rupert Murdoch and the Walton Family Foundation. DFER donated to the pro-Scott Walker American Federation of Children, and distanced itself from Wisconsin workers when Walker attacked public sector workers’ bargaining rights. DFER remained true to its commitment to high stakes testing and to anti-union hedge fund managers, but ducked the opportunity to address the school to prison pipeline. The former DFER executive director, Joe Williams, acknowledges the mistake of pushing teacher evaluations at the same time as Common Core. He notes the resulting political turmoil, but not the mess that those inherently contradictory policies created inside schools. Neither Russo nor any of his sources try to document the idea that the DFER agenda improved schools.

Russo cites the judgment of liberal reformers that DFER was completely on board with the corporate reform wish list, but not so much with the Democrats’ agenda. Andre Perry also notes that “DFER and other education reform groups have grown comfortable working with Republican leadership – in many cases they’ve thrived,” and adds that perhaps the reform movement should go by the name For Education Reform. Perry opposes the way that DFER/FER criticizes the Democratic base “which is especially problematic in an election in which worker rights are in focus.” He explains that Democrats aren’t buying DFER’s “selling [of] school choice as justice.” The amended party platform “was a political victory for those who repudiated the brand of reform that DFER promotes.” Reformers should have accepted their loss as “a result of real political work, and as “changes designed to get Hillary Clinton elected.”

Democratic political infighting over education pulls the rug out from under black families

Perry’s account should be read along with the Hechinger Report’s Emanuel Felton, who explains how reform effected teachers and political reality in Philadelphia.

He reminds us:

Over the course of President Barack Obama’s eight years in office, a coalition formed among his administration, governors, many of whom are Republican, and big city education reformers. Together, they doubled down on former Republican President George W. Bush’s education policies, pledging to turn around long-struggling urban school districts like Philadelphia’s by holding schools accountable for their students’ test scores. If results didn’t improve, officials could tap federal funds for turning around schools, to either close a school or transform it into a privately operated, publicly funded charter school, the vast majority of which employ non-unionized staff.

Of course, student performance didn’t improve. On the whole, decades of improvements in NAEP scores slowed with NCLB, and stopped around 2008. Felton writes:

Over the last decade and a half, the union — which represents the city’s public school teachers, nurses, counselors and support staff — has been nearly halved, its ranks shrinking from 21,000 to 11,000. Come election time, that means 10,000 fewer members to go door to door campaigning, 10,000 fewer people paying union dues to finance political ads and get-out-the-vote efforts.

I just wish he’d explained how the knee-capping of educators also undermined other progressive coalitions and the battle for justice in other sectors of society. I also wished he’d recalled the damage done to students. To name just one example, the conservative reform Governor Tom Corbett cut the Philadelphia school budget by $700 million.

It might be different if reformers like DFER had a record of improving public schools. Take a look at the issues that (publicly) outrage corporate reformers, however, and they all come back to two demands that are based on faith in their hypotheses, not evidence. Reformers insist that high stakes testing must be used to sanction individuals and systems, and on the mass charterization of schools. Test-driven accountability has demonstrably failed but bubble-in scores are the metrics that keep score as charter management organizations spearhead school closures, thus breaking union power. Test scores also fuel the Billionaires Boys Club’s high-dollar, anti-teacher, anti-public school public relations campaign and, less publicly, they are seen as necessary to encourage for-profit education start-ups. In other words, all roads lead back to the insistence that the punitive is nonnegotiable.

If Democrats who remain true to output-driven reform weren’t so committed to punishments, as well as rewards, they could go along with a 2-1/2 month pre-election moratorium on attacking fellow Democrats. They could temporarily stop slandering those who disagree with them, and focus on win-win policies such as early childhood education, wraparound services for traumatized kids, fighting chronic absenteeism, restorative justice, high school graduation, reducing the college debts, and making higher education affordable. They could also help us advocate for a $15 dollar minimum wage, the end of mass incarceration, and the refusal of the conservative allies to accept Obamacare.

Assuming that Hillary Clinton is elected, teachers will regain our seat at the table. We don’t expect the Billionaires Boys Club to offer us theirs. They aren’t likely to bend on their bottom line – the punishment of individuals and of the losers in their market-driven world. But, after a few months of swallowing their words rather than insulting and slandering teachers, perhaps they could rethink the politics of personal demonization. Okay, that’s not likely to happen. Educators still need to continue to make our case, as we make it clear that our profession won’t endure another eight years of being scapegoated by Democrats.