One of the big appeals of charter schools, for the hedge funders and politicians who support them, is that they’re a way to break unions. But as charter schools become more entrenched, and their teachers see the problems that come with high turnover, low wages, and lack of due process protections, they’re starting to unionize. Which was definitely not the plan of the charter industry. Earlier this month, teachers at the largest Los Angeles charter chain, Alliance, launched an organizing drive, because:
“We believe that when teachers have a respected voice in policymaking it leads to school sustainability and teacher retention,” said Elana Goldbaum, who teaches history at Gertz-Ressler High School, a member of the Alliance group. “We have a lot of talent and we want to see that stay. We want to see our teachers be a part of the decision-making and we want to advocate for our students and ourselves.”
The letter teachers sent to Alliance management specifically asked for “a fair and neutral process,” i.e. no union-busting, and Alliance—the board of which includes a hedge fund billionaire (among other financial industry types), a former mayor of Los Angeles, and a judge—seemed to say yes:
In a statement, leaders of the 11,000-student charter group said that they would not stop the teachers from pursuing union affiliation.
“We acknowledge the rights of our teachers to undertake this effort. We also recognize that our teachers are under no obligation to participate,” said the statement from President and Chief Executive Judy Burton and incoming President and Chief Executive Dan Katzir.
About that. Alliance has now launched an anti-union website as part of a broader effort to keep teachers from joining together to get collective bargaining and other union rights. Not exactly neutral, though I guess Alliance management isn’t yet saying teachers don’t have the right to unionize, they’re just saying they really don’t think teachers should exercise that right. Since Alliance is publicly funded, these anti-union messages are being paid for with public money; teachers are enlisting community support in the request for true neutrality.
The charter industry has reason to be frightened. It’s an industry built on overworking and underpaying teachers, accepting the high turnover that comes with that (at a detriment to students), and denying teachers a voice in what goes on in the classroom. As one Alliance teacher says, in a video you can see below the fold, “I would like to organize a union because I believe that teachers should have a say in the curriculum and instruction that’s being provided to their students.” That shouldn’t be such a big ask, but apparently it is.