Teachers Unions Target Charter Schools

Tuesday, 16 Apr 2013 10:06 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Labor groups are pushing for more involvement in the nation's charter schools, whose operators say they can manage their school staffs better when they're not unionized.

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest teachers union, and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the second-largest, have union drives under way at charter schools in several large cities, including Chicago, San Diego, and Philadelphia, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Labor leaders say they want to organize charter schools because teachers are complaining about low pay and poor working conditions. Some observers, though, say the push is to help unions boost their declining membership rolls.

In Chicago, the United Neighborhood Organization has agreed to provide the American Federation of Teachers with contact information for its 400 teachers and to allow union organizers to meet with them on school grounds. An agreement would unionize 25 percent of Chicago's charter school teachers.

Nina Rees, president and chief executive of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said her group isn't necessarily opposed to unions, as long as the contracts don't “bog down” innovation.

Nationally, teachers unions are facing problems in several areas, including layoffs in Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and other states.

Membership also is declining. Last year, the NEA had about 3 million members; the AFT had 848,000, both down about 3 percent from 2011, according to the Department of Labor.

Meanwhile, only about 12 percent of the nation's 5,000 charter schools are unionized. By comparison, more than half of all public-school districts in the United States were involved with unions in the 2007-2008 school year.

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