Union organizers working to sign up Detroit charter school employees

December 27, 2012

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Steve Gunn Steve Gunn

Steve, Editor-in-chief of EAGnews, joined in 2009. Previously, he was a newspaper journalist.
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DETROIT – Teachers unions accomplish several major goals when they manage to organize charter school employees:

cardcheckThey add to their membership and increase the amount of dues money flowing into union coffers. And they kill one of the key characteristics – a union-free workforce – that make the vast majority of charter schools so different and appealing to families.

By converting charters into nothing more than carbon copies of failed traditional schools, they unions hope to eliminate them as serious competitors for public school students and the state dollars attached to them.

All of those goals are doubtlessly on the minds of union officials in Detroit, who have been working overtime in recent weeks to organize the four campuses of Cesar Chavez Academy, a charter system that’s been operating in the Motor City for about 15 years, according to the Huffington Post.

They want teachers and other employees in the charter system to join the Michigan Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, a branch of the American Federation of Teachers.

This type of effort could become more common at charter schools throughout the state, now that Gov. Rick Snyder has signed right-to-work legislation that will make mandatory union membership illegal. The unions hope to counter the expected loss in membership by adding new members from previously untapped sources like charter schools.

The unions made a previous effort to organize the Cesar Chavez staff in 2006, when there were demands for a union certification vote, according to the Huffington Post. The Michigan Employment Relations Commission denied that request based on its ruling that charter employees are not public employees and therefore are not entitled to collective bargaining.

Union officials now argue that a clear majority of Chavez employees have “signed on” for a union, and they have demanded that the school’s private operator immediately recognize the MACTS as the sole bargaining agent for all non-management employees.

A spokesman for Leona Group, which operates the Chavez school, said there is no need for “card check,” a despicable union strategy to get a majority of employees to sign union cards under pressure from union supporters. Once that occurs, the unions call for immediate recognition.

The spokesman said a secret ballot union election is far more likely, and the fairest thing to do.

“We think that the system, the process that’s set up by the National Labor Relations Board for secret ballot elections giving every employee the opportunity to cast the ballot without anybody standing over their shoulder or pushing them in any particular direction is an important right,” Leona spokesman Mike Atkins told the Huffington Post.

If the Chavez staffers are lucky, they will get a chance to cast honest, private ballots regarding their union status. And if they are smart, they will think twice about joining an organization that will create permanent tension between management and staff and suck all the innovative energy out of their charter school.

Collective bargaining is a cancer on education. That’s been proven time and again. Whether that cancer will spread to the Chavez Academy and other Michigan charter schools remains to be seen.

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