WASHINGTON—The American Federation of Teachers has charged the leadership of Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy with violating federal labor law by retaliating against its own workers for unionizing and then closing its doors without consulting them.
In a complaint filed with Region 5 of the National Labor Relations Board, the union shows how Chavez management repeatedly broke the law at Chavez Prep Middle School on multiple occasions by attacking, rather than working with, its own employees.
In January 2018, management abruptly announced it was closing Chavez Prep and merging its two high schools into one campus, leaving teachers without jobs and children without a school. Teachers found out about the closure from the media.
Federal law prohibits employers from interfering with employees’ right to organize and requires that changes to employment conditions—including the closure of a school or an employee transfer to another site—be bargained with workers. It also states that management must make financial documents available to facilitate the collective bargaining process.
Chavez workers voted 31-2 to join the AFT in June 2017 and have been attempting to negotiate a first contract ever since. But instead of bargaining a mutually beneficial agreement to benefit kids, management opted to hire a union-busting law firm from upstate New York to attack educators.
This charge is filed against Chavez Schools and TenSquare, a controversial for-profit consultancy that has received millions in public funds and effectively runs Chavez Schools, as joint employers. The AFT is asking the board to order Chavez to return to the bargaining table and turn over the documents in question.
The union alleges Chavez, named for the legendary labor organizer who co-founded the United Farm Workers of America, and TenSquare:
- Unilaterally implemented the decision to close Chavez Prep Middle School without first bargaining the closure with the union;
- Unilaterally implemented an employee transfer policy and other human resources policies in connection with the Chavez Prep closure;
- Closed Chavez Prep in retaliation for the workers’ engaging in protected concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act; and
- Failed to provide information to the union that it needs to be able to bargain on behalf of its members.
Mateo Samper, eighth-grade English and language arts teacher, said: “When we unionized, we did so because we wanted to be teammates whose voices were heard and valued in decisions regarding our school. But since that day, the board of trustees has chosen to treat us as adversaries. Several of us have stayed through pay cuts, we’ve volunteered for recruitment events, and we’ve worked harder to push student achievement—and succeeded. We have done a lot more for recruitment and re-enrollment than the Chavez board of trustees has, yet they made this decision without any communication or effort to engage any of us.”
AFT President Randi Weingarten said: “Cesar Chavez’s legacy has again been traduced by Chavez Schools, the company that bears his name. Instead of living up to his ideals, Chavez management has chosen to ignore parents, undermine children and attack educators for exercising their legal right to organize—the right that Cesar Chavez fought so hard to preserve and extend.
“The law could not be clearer: You cannot unilaterally change the terms of conditions of employment, or close a school, without bargaining the effects of those actions. And you cannot retaliate against your employees for joining together in a union. Chavez Schools has become Exhibit A in how unregulated charters routinely ignore the transparency and accountability that public schools are bound to uphold. We are asking that management respect both the law and the educators who have worked so hard to give their kids a shot at a better life.”
The AFT represents 7,500 members at 237 charter schools in 15 states and the District of Columbia. Since summer 2017, educators at 12 charter schools have joined the union.
The full NLRB complaint can be read here.