Resolved? Three aldermen back resolution on charter union drives

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As teachers and administrators at three Chicago International charter schools try to put the finishing touches on the city’s first charter union contract, organizers with the teachers’ newly formed union, Chicago ACTS, are asking aldermen to unequivocally back the right of other charter teachers to form unions.

Chicago ACTS (Alliance for Charter School Teachers and Staff) is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and, according to organizer James Thindwa, continues to develop connections with other charter teachers across the city. As part of the larger union push, Thindwa says Chicago ACTS will be working with aldermen Joe Moore, Ricardo Munoz and Pat Dowell to drum up support for a resolution that declares Chicago a union-friendly town and urges charter school administrators to remain neutral during union drives.

As teachers and administrators at three Chicago International charter schools try to put the finishing touches on the city’s first charter union contract, organizers with the teachers’ newly formed union, Chicago ACTS, are asking aldermen to unequivocally back the right of other charter teachers to form unions.

Chicago ACTS (Alliance for Charter School Teachers and Staff) is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and, according to organizer James Thindwa, continues to develop connections with other charter teachers across the city. As part of the larger union push, Thindwa says Chicago ACTS will be working with aldermen Joe Moore, Ricardo Munoz and Pat Dowell to drum up support for a resolution that declares Chicago a union-friendly town and urges charter school administrators to remain neutral during union drives.

The resolution may lack legal punch, but Thindwa says it would send a message to charter operators that the “City Council is on the side of workers and unionization.” He contends that its political chances are strong in a council that passed the living wage ordinance for “big box” retailers in 2006—a contentious ordinance that Mayor Richard Daley later vetoed.

“A lot of politicians are supporters of charters, but they have not signed on to an anti-union agenda,” notes Thindwa.

He says Ald. Latasha Thomas, chair of the city’s education committee, has signaled support for moving the resolution through committee and into the City Council for a full vote. But Thomas did not immediately return Catalyst’s phone calls.

The most contentious line in the resolution concerns the Chicago International union drive directly. The resolution states flatly that teachers in charters are public employees and their union organizing falls under the jurisdiction of the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board, an oversight body which requires a simple majority of teachers to sign union cards in order to establish union representation.

When the teachers at the Chicago International schools submitted their union cards this summer, their union drive was challenged by administrators who claimed they were technically private employees of the education management organization Civitas Schools. Union drives at private companies are subject to the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board, which requires an anonymous vote to establish union representation.

The legal challenge by Civitas was never fully settled, as teachers agreed to vote for union rights under the National Labor Relations Board’s rules. In exchange, union insiders negotiated language in the state’s charter law that gives the IELRB jurisdiction over union drives in other charter schools.