Charter School Unionization FAQ
What Does it Mean to Organize a Union of Charter School Educators?
Charter school educators unionize in order to make sure that educators have a strong voice in decisions that impact their students, schools and professions. By forming a union at their schools or network, charter educators have been able to negotiate union contracts that can improve pay and benefits, cut down on teacher turnover, address work/life balance, establish job security and ensure that teachers have a meaningful say in decisions that impact their classrooms.
Have Other Charter Educators Unionized?
Yes. There are over 250 union charter schools in California. Over 40 have unionized in the past 4 years. Educators at Bay Area charter schools such as Envision Education, East Bay Innovation Academy, Foundation for Hispanic Education, and Community Learning Center Schools have recently won strong union contracts that have addressed workload issues, improved pay and helped retain quality teachers.
What is the Process for Unionizing?
Charter school educators can unionize as long as a majority of their colleagues support unionization. The unionization process is overseen by the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) which is a California state agency that oversees the Educational Employment Relations Act (EERA), the state law that governs labor relations for our state’s public schools. To build a strong union it is important that educators first build a organizing committee comprised of educators from each school in the network. This committee will help guide the unionization process and educate their colleagues about how they can help, while also getting input from their colleagues about their priorities. Though the law requires only simple majority support for unionization, most charter schools seek to achieve supermajority support in order to maximize the strength of their union and minimize divisions among their co-workers.
The steps for successfully unionizing are:
- Build a representative organizing committee of educators
- Build supermajority support for unionization by asking colleagues to sign a union support petition
- Submit your union support petitions to the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) and be officially recognized as a union.
- Negotiate a union contract with administration that improves learning and teaching conditions at their school
Right now we are in step 3 and preparing for step 4.
How Do We Bargain a Union Contract?
Administration is legally obligated to negotiate with us in good faith. This means they can no longer make unilateral changes to working conditions without negotiating with us and our co-workers first. We are in the process of selecting a diverse group of representatives from different schools and subject areas for our union bargaining team, and we are in the process of getting input from all of our colleagues through meetings and surveys.
The bargaining team will then use that information as they negotiate our union contract. Contract negotiations typically take place during the school day and union bargaining team members will be provided with substitutes for their classes. Our bargaining team will have close mentorship and support from experienced union organizers and negotiators during this process.
Does Administration Want Us to Unionize?
Most charter school administrators would prefer that educators not unionize. Without a union, administration can make all decisions unilaterally. When charter educators unionize, educators have to be part of that process. They have the power to improve conditions for their students and their colleagues. However, some school site administrators understand that when educators unionize, they can help bring more resources to the classroom–which is a good thing.
Can We Get in Trouble for Unionizing?
It is not legal to discriminate against educators who are participating in unionizing their school. Participating in our union (including talking with coworkers and parents, wearing buttons or stickers, handing out flyers, and signing petitions) is legally protected activity. Most administrators understand this, and know that administration would get in trouble if they violate the law. It is of course important that we don’t interrupt our teaching responsibilities and are thoughtful about our strategies when we are engaged in union activities.
What Will Be Our Relationship to the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the National Education Association (NEA)?
Most charter schools form their own local unions, as we have done with Unite Summit. That local union is comprised of educators from their school or network and is led by educators elected by their colleagues at their schools. These local unions are affiliated with CTA (the largest statewide education union in CA; represents hundreds of charter schools) and NEA (the largest national education union in the US). CTA and NEA provide support for local unions and also help support educators and students by fighting for school funding and supporting legislation that supports teachers and students. For instance, charter school educators at Green Dot Public Schools (a large charter school network in Los Angeles) are members of the Asociación De Maestros Unidos, or AMU. AMU is affiliated with both CTA and NEA. CTA and NEA are also very supportive of charter school educators having a strong voice in decisions that impact their schools.
Do We Pay Dues?
Yes. Education union members pay dues to support their local, statewide and national unions. In fact, dues from existing traditional district and charter school unions help support non-union charter educators when they decide to unionize. Union dues are typically between $80 to $90 a month. However, charter school educators who are unionizing do not have to start paying dues until they have voted to approve their first union contract. That way they are able to weigh the improvements they have made in their contract against the cost of the dues.
How Can I Help?
There are three roles for people who want to be more involved in building our union.
- Organizing Committee (OC). Representatives from each school who help form and build our union. The OC will be replaced by elected leadership after bylaws are put in place.
- Bargaining Team. Elected teachers from each school site who bargain our union contract. The Bargaining Team writes contract proposals based on input from teachers and communicates with their sites throughout the bargaining process.
- Contract Action Team (CAT). Volunteers from each school site who help the Bargaining Team communicate with teachers at their school site and solicit input and feedback throughout the bargaining process.
Union supporters who are not members of the OC, Bargaining Team, or CAT can best help by giving input about desired improvements at their school, and supporting the bargaining team.