July 13, 2006

The subtler points of charter schools and teachers unions

So I'm coming late to the "party" on the firing of Nichole Byrne Lau from a New York charter school. (More discussion by Leo Casey, AFT's NCLBlog, Andrew Rotherham, Joe Williams, and Sara Mead.) There are a few aspects here that haven't been covered yet, I think:

  • Conversion charter schools that were unionized before conversion should remain unionized afterward. We had a similar case in higher-ed a few years ago in Florida, and the courts ruled firmly that the attempt to break up a union by reorganizing the system is not legitimate. My colleagues and I did the same work, with the same job titles, as before. If teachers are still in the classroom, in the same building, but the name on the front changes, that doesn't eliminate the teachers' prior decision to be represented. I know this doesn't affect the case in question, but there are states with substantial numbers of conversion charter schools.
  • It is not entirely clear whether unionization rules in charter schools come under state public-employee laws or the National Labor Relations Act. They're quasi-public entities, after all, receiving public funds, and in many states they're treated similarly to public schools in some aspects (if not all). For example, teachers in Florida charter schools have to be certified (something that is not true for private schools).
  • There is a danger in charter schools that either side could outpower the other. I could imagine a strong union sending staff to help out with the first set of negotiations in some areas that could overwhelm a small management negotiating team, but I could also imagine a chain of EMOs sending union-busting lawyers to diddle away time at the negotiating table. My recommended solution:
    • Card-check path to automatic recognition, set at 55% of the bargaining unit.
    • The first negotiation for a collective bargaining agreement should automatically bring a mediator, to eliminate any power differentials.
    • To prevent distractions and a waste of time, there should be a time limit on the first set of negotiations, with binding arbitration after that deadline.
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Posted in Education policy on July 13, 2006 12:08 AM |