Nonprofit Newswire | Battle Over Charter School Unionization

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August 9, 2010; Source: In These Times | Frequently, charter schools get support from some quarters because they stand against the power and perceived intransigence of the teachers unions that dominate regular public schools. But what happens when a charter school run by a nonprofit management company faces a unionization campaign among its teaching staff?

In Chicago, the Chicago Math and Science Academy managed by the nonprofit Concept Schools is charged with firing a pregnant teacher just weeks before she gave birth, a teacher who had uniformly stellar performance evaluations. CMSA said it was for budget reasons, but the teacher, Rhonda Hartwell, thinks it was in retaliation for her role in union organizing among teachers at the charter.

On the day she was fired, Hartwell and other teachers were going to go to the school’s administration to present the results of their card check union election in which two-thirds of the teachers voted to join the Chicago affiliate of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers (eight other charters are already unionized).

Hartwell is absolutely certain that she was fired because she was one of the leaders of the union effort, holding union meetings at her house. The school denies that it fired the teacher for her union efforts, though it does reluctantly acknowledge that a nonprofit-managed charter school is governed by the laws and regulations of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

However, an earlier statement on the CMSA website makes it clear that it is very, very uncomfortable with card check union elections, which puts the nonprofit management company in opposition to the AFL-CIO, the Democratic Party, and the Obama Administration which all support the Employee Free Choice Act introduced in the House by George Miller (D-CA) and in the Senate last year by the late Ted Kennedy (D-MA).—Rick Cohen