Wednesday, January 12, 2011

National Labor Relations Board Finds Charter Schools Are Public Schools

From Chicago ACTS:

CHICAGO—Two new rulings by the National Labor Relations Board make clear that charter schools are public schools and, therefore, that charter school employees are able to organize into a union under Illinois state law.

Teachers at Latino Youth High School and Rudy Lozano Leadership Academy, both located in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, filed for union recognition with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board last fall, after a majority of teachers at both schools signed union authorization cards. They would be represented by Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (Chicago ACTS), an affiliate of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers.

Petitioning the National Labor Relations Board, school officials challenged the IELRB’s jurisdiction over the charter schools, claiming the schools were private entities that required an NLRB-supervised election. Despite receiving public funding, the schools claimed they were private sector employers and therefore fall under federal, not state, jurisdiction. The NLRB refused to recognize the schools as private employers.

“This ruling sends a strong message to charter school operators that these schools are clearly public schools and their teachers must be afforded the same rights as any other public school teacher,” said Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery. “Any effort by charter operators to duck their obligations under state law by arguing that they are private employers is a waste of taxpayer money and a waste of time that is better spent working with the teachers and giving them a voice in improving their schools.”

Latino Youth High School is run by the nonprofit group Pilsen Wellness Center, and Rudy Lozano Leadership Academy is run by the nonprofit Instituto del Progreso Latino. Both schools contract with Youth Connection Charter School, which holds the charter to operate the schools. Even before the ruling came out, school leaders at Rudy Lozano had already agreed to recognize and work with the newly formed teachers union.

According to both rulings, the schools and the nonprofits that run them are public entities under state law, and “the school itself is specifically defined as a public school.” Both schools must accept all eligible students who apply, just like any other public school in the state, and they both must comply with the Illinois Open Meetings Act and are subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Youth Connection Charter School operates 22 other campuses. Teachers at Howard Area Leadership Academy, which is part of the YCCS network, also filed for union representation and is awaiting certification by the state.

Since the start of the school year, four Chicago-area charter schools—including the three YCCS schools—have filed for union representation with the IELRB. The other school, Chicago Math and Science Academy, has been certified by the IELRB. And although the NLRB has refused to recognize the school as a private employer, school officials continue to appeal the NLRB’s decision, spending tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars in attorney’s fees to oppose the union.

In the past two years, teachers at a dozen Chicago-area charter schools have unionized and become part of Chicago ACTS.

[Chicago ACTS press release]

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