National labor board sets hurdle in charter union bid

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Last night, the National Labor Relations Board ruled, in effect, against the teachers at three Chicago charter schools who already had won union authorization from the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board (IELRB).

The national board determined that the teachers are employees of a private firm, the Civitas educational management company, not public employees who would be governed by the state labor board.

As a practical matter, the ruling means that the teachers will have to vote in a secret ballot on whether they want to unionize.

Last night, the National Labor Relations Board ruled, in effect, against the teachers at three Chicago charter schools who already had won union authorization from the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board (IELRB).

The national board determined that the teachers are employees of a private firm, the Civitas educational management company, not public employees who would be governed by the state labor board.

As a practical matter, the ruling means that the teachers will have to vote in a secret ballot on whether they want to unionize.

Meanwhile, charter school legislation awaiting the signature of Gov. Patrick Quinn would give the IELRB sole jurisdiction in charter union drives.  Because of that, local teachers unions have decided not to oppose the national ruling.

In order to establish union rights, the state board requires only a simple majority of employees to sign “union cards.” Some 75 percent of teachers at the Civitas schools did so in April.

While a secret ballot appears headed for success as well, IFT spokesman Gail Purkey says, “You never take any election for granted.”

The union will push for the election to take place immediately, preferably before the end of the school year, says Purkey. That would give teachers time to negotiate a contract over the summer,.

It would also limit the amount of time that Civitas administrators would have to make their case against unionization.

The latest development may also resolve another legal development in the case that emerged just this week. Lawyers for Civitas had asked a federal court for protection against unfair labor practices pending before the IELRB.  The charges were brought by the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff—the organization that would represent Civitas teachers, should they win union rights.

A hearing on the matter had been scheduled for Friday, June 5. Catalyst has called the Chicago ACTS office to ask if they will drop all charges and focus on the election campaign. But representatives did not immediately return the call.