'Union, Yes!' for Educators at Pittsburgh’s Environmental Charter School

Teachers, nurses, counselors, social workers, academic coaches and educational assistants at Pittsburgh’s Environmental Charter School voted this week to join the AFT. ECS educators are the latest in a wave of public charter school teachers and staff across the country who have voted for a union voice on the job with the AFT this year, as educators stand up for their kids and achieve together what is impossible to accomplish alone.

Lauren Palamara, a K-1 environmental literacy teacher and organizing committee member, said the organizing process has been an important learning experience: “We have worked hard over the past months to get to where we are today. We’ve had countless conversations together as a staff—honest and meaningful dialogue that we have already learned important lessons from.”

As ECS educators celebrate their victory, they’re preparing to collectively bargain a first contract with their administration that bolsters educator voice in decision making and improves job security amid the school’s expansion plans.

“I am excited to work with everyone at ECS within a democratic and reliable system of collaboration,” Palamara said. “Before us, I see a fantastic opportunity to define what an educators’ union can do in service of our students as ECS expands over the coming years. We look forward to envisioning—together with our board, parents and families, and the entire staff—what this union can be and how it will positively impact the students under our care. We have an exciting and important task ahead of us, and I can’t wait to get to work with my colleagues.”

As AFT President Randi Weingarten congratulated the ECS educators on their victory, she shared her perspective on why so many charter school teachers have voted to unionize in the last year: “Charter school professionals around the country are joining together for their kids—to boost resources, improve job security and negotiate a real say in how their classrooms are run. The ECS educators love their school, and just like their peers, they decided that a union could give them the voice they need to make it an even better place for teaching and learning.”

The AFT now represents 7,500 members at 237 charter schools in 15 states and the District of Columbia. Since the summer of 2017, educators at 12 charter schools have joined the union.

Looking ahead to the collective bargaining process, Weingarten assured the new AFT members that the union will have their back and “work closely with administrators to forge a truly collaborative relationship that will create the latitude and voice that can help students pursue their dreams.”

Congratulations to the ECS educators on this hard-earned victory, and welcome to the AFT family! Help us welcome them on Twitter.

[Leilah Mooney Joseph/AFT Media Affairs]