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Educators at two charter schools set to join union

May 21 was a big day for charter school educators who want to become part of the AFT, as staff at schools in both Chicago and New York City started the process to form a union, with overwhelming support from their colleagues.

In Chicago, the staff at Youth Connection Leadership Academy notified their employer, Youth Connection Charter School, of their unanimous decision to form a union. The classroom and administrative staff of YCLA elected to join and be represented by Chicago ACTS (Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff).

"A union will enable teachers to advocate more powerfully for our students and for ourselves," says YCLA teacher Virginia Coklow, "which can only strengthen and enhance our school's ability to serve students effectively."

By notifying Youth Connection Charter School, and filing for the election with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board of Chicago asking that ACTS be their representative, the YCLA staff have started the process to gain legal recognition and seek a collective bargaining agreement with their employer.

Youth Connection Charter School is the employer and manager of YCLA, as well as the charter holder for a network of 22 more campuses serving at-risk high school students. Chicago ACTS already represents four of these schools: Antonio Pantoja High School and the Latino Youth, Howard Area and Rudy Lozano Leadership Academies.

Academy of the City Charter School

In New York, meanwhile, educators at Academy of the City Charter School in Queens (pictured at right) announced that they have organized a union at the school and intend to join the United Federation of Teachers. Teachers and staff at the school believe that unionization will help them better support their students' needs.

In letters to the school's principal and board of directors, teachers outlined their reasons for organizing a union. The letters, signed by the entire teaching staff, called for a formal collective voice at the school and the recognition of educators as vital partners "to the success of our school and to the realization of its mission to empower students."

The UFT filed a formal petition with the school's board of trustees and notified the New York State Public Employment Relations Board that Academy of the City teachers and staff are seeking union recognition.

"As teachers, we are the best advocates for the children we work with every day," says Samantha Feigelson, a kindergarten teacher at the school. "In order to support our students, the staff at Academy of the City Charter School has to work as a unit. We are building the foundation of our school, and we need to put the students and their needs first. Forming a union will help us to work together to make informed decisions and support one another and our students."

First-grade teacher Alice McNeil agrees. "Having a union at Academy of the City Charter School will give the teachers a strong voice in making decisions to best support the students."

Academy of the City Charter School, which opened this school year, serves approximately 100 students in kindergarten and first grade; it will eventually serve grades K-5. With the addition of Academy of the City Charter School, the UFT now represents educators at 17 charter schools throughout New York City. [Carlos Fernandez, Rob Callaghan/photo courtesy UFT]

May 24, 2012