04/30/2013

Educators vote for union at Philadelphia charter school

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An April 24 vote for unionization at Philadelphia's New Media Technology Charter School put a cap on two years of tumult, as the teachers and counselors of the combined middle and high school voted 26 to 3 in favor of union representation. The representation election was the first in Pennsylvania to be conducted according to private sector labor law and overseen by the National Labor Relations Board; previous elections had fallen under the jurisdiction of public labor law.

The jurisdictional question was significant. In an earlier union drive at New Media, 60 percent of faculty signed union petitions, asking for voluntary recognition under public labor law. The operator of the northwest Philadelphia charter challenged the petitions, asserting that the school was a private entity, despite $5 million of taxpayer funding.

At the time, the jurisdictional question had already been posed by a charter school operator in Chicago. The NLRB resolved that challenge last December in favor of private sector labor law. This provided a green light to the NLRB to finally conduct a charter school election in Philadelphia.

"We are proud of the teachers of New Media Technology Charter School for standing together to win their full voice as professionals," says AFT Pennsylvania president Ted Kirsch, who is an AFT vice president. "For charter schools to achieve their mission of innovation and excellence, they must treat their teachers and staff members as full partners. This victory for the staff of New Media is a victory not only for them, but also for the students they serve."

The 29 teachers and counselors at New Media will join the AFT Pennsylvania-affiliated Alliance of Charter School Employees, a chapter of charter school teachers in Philadelphia. Says Kim Johnson, president of the ACSE chapter at Khepera Charter School, "I'm proud that the staff of New Media overcame two years of delays and still managed to demonstrate overwhelming support for a voice in the decision-making process at their school. Their tenacity demonstrates how strongly teachers feel about the need for a collaborative relationship with management—a relationship in which they can securely advocate for their students." [Connie McKenna]

April 30, 2013