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  • First Union Contracts A Milestone For Cleveland Charter Schools
    Posted On: Jun 13, 2016

    By JoAnne Powers, June 14, 2016

    Teachers and support staff at three I Can charter schools in Cleveland have overwhelmingly ratified union contracts.  The area’s first organized charter schools with a collectively bargained contract, the workers are represented by The Cleveland Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, an affiliate of the Ohio Federation of Teachers.  Here’s Federation President Melissa Cropper:

    [Melissa Cropper]: “This is a huge victory for them, personally, a huge victory for charter school teachers everywhere, I believe, and, we look forward to working with them, and also organizing and bringing more people into this charter-school fold.”

    I Can Teacher Abigail Haren says the charter school environment was very different from what she’d seen in public schools:

    [Abigail Haren]: “I thought, this is really strange, you know…people are afraid for their jobs, people are nervous all the time.  There’s a lot of teacher turnover and there’s a lot of student turnover.  I didn’t like what I saw.  I didn’t feel like I had a voice.  A lot of other teachers didn’t feel like they had a voice, so when AFT people came knocking on people’s door, I said, ‘Oh, my goodness, yes.  We need this.  This is what needs to be done to make our school better.’”

    Haren was one of seven teachers fired by I Can for her union activity, but was re-hired after a decision by the National Labor Relations Board:

    [Abigail Haren]: “People were very scared.  And I Can definitely tried some intimidation members.  Certain people were treated differently when they were identified to be a part of the group, or the union.  And then they tried a few different tactics like making a lot of promises, basically, to teachers saying, ‘hey, we’ve listened to you, we heard you.  We’re gonna fix everything.’   And, of course, that didn’t last.  And at the end of that first organizing year, just before we were about to go to a vote, several teachers were unexpectedly fired.  It definitely sent a wave of fear through the other teachers and the other schools.  The NLRB found merit in our case.  I think someone called it one of the most egregious abuses of labor law that they had seen in a long time. They sort of found out that, yes, this was a planned attack on teachers at the charter school. We were all given back pay and job offers to come back to I Can schools. And of the seven teachers who were fired I was the only one who took them up on the offer and sort of came back into the fray, and continued the effort to unionize.”

    The contract takes steps toward reducing teacher turnover and providing a voice for professional educators:

    [Abigail Haren]: “It is a first contract.  We certainly didn’t get everything that we wanted, but they sat there and they listened and they negotiated on every single point that we brought up.”

    The American Federation of Teachers represents educators at 228 charter schools across 15 states.  With an agreement that will put new I Can schools under the same contract if they choose to unionize, Cropper says the union is still actively organizing at other charter schools in the Cleveland area and trying to bring more accountability to the charter school system:

    [Melissa Cropper]: “It doesn’t make a lot of sense that we have this additional set of schools that are siphoning money off of the public funds.  Unfortunately, in the state of Ohio, charters are not held to the right accountability standards, so you have people who are gaming the system and making a lot of money, taking public dollars and to line their own pockets.”

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