CLEVELAND—In a historic first for Cleveland, teachers and support staff at University of Cleveland Preparatory School voted overwhelmingly today to join the Ohio Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers, hoping to improve conditions for students and teachers. UCP is part of the network of charter schools operated by Cleveland-based I CAN SCHOOLS.
The successful vote represents the first union charter school organizing victory in Cleveland, adding to a growing national movement of charter school educators demanding a voice for their profession.
Educators across the I CAN SCHOOLS chain are organizing to form a union to challenge the conditions that lead to high teacher turnover. Teachers and support staff say lack of job security has a chilling effect on raising concerns or suggestions to better support students' individual needs. Teachers have had no voice in professional development or their evaluation process.
Today's win was hard-earned. In 2014, in response to teachers' organizing efforts, I CAN SCHOOLS undertook a brazen anti-educator campaign. Seven teachers who were instrumental in union organizing were fired as punishment.
In spite of this, teachers did not back down. They continued their organizing efforts and remained committed to a shared vision of real partnership among families, the administration and teachers; transparency in school policy, procedures and decision-making; a strong voice for educators to promote student achievement; reasonable expectations and workload; adequate staffing; protected planning time; educational support; and accountability. Families of I CAN students joined the effort by issuing an open letter to the administration demanding turnover be addressed, demanding meetings with members of the administration and circulating an online petition to support teachers.
"This takes us one giant step closer to our goal of a contract for educators and support staff that improves school accountability, respects our professionalism and gives us a strong voice to advocate for students," said Abi Haren, a second-grade assistant teacher at UCP.
Haren was among the fired I CAN teachers. All seven were reinstated with full back pay after the National Labor Relations Board found I CAN had violated their rights by wrongfully terminating them based on their union activity. In total, 17 unfair labor practice charges were filed against I CAN SCHOOLS in 2014. Currently the National Labor Relations Board is investigating additional unfair labor practice charges involving illegal surveillance and retaliation against pro-union teachers at UCP and Northeast Ohio College Preparatory School.
"These hardworking educators deserve a seat at the table, and the students and families served by UCP deserve teachers and staff who are empowered to deliver the best education possible—that's what forming a union is all about. We're proud to welcome our new union sisters and brothers at UCP," said Cleveland Teachers Union President David Quolke, who is an AFT vice president. "Those closest to the education process must have a voice in education policy and practice."
"We welcome the teachers and support staff of UCP into our union. We know we share many common challenges and a common vision of professionalism and high-quality, student-centered education," said Ohio Federation of Teachers President Melissa Cropper, also an AFT vice president.
"This vote to have a voice through a union is a historic move for the charter educators in Cleveland. There is now a growing movement of teachers at charter schools across the country who are committed to raising their voices so they can better advocate for the students they serve," said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.
"I CAN teachers and staff have overcome serious anti-union tactics, and they have stuck together and united with I CAN families to speak out for their students. They want the same things all educators want: a voice in decisions that affect their students, fair evaluations that help them grow professionally, due process protections, and transparency and accountability from their employers."