Charter schools could be the next frontier for Michigan teacher’s unions determined to keep organizing in the wake of recent right-to-work legislation signed by Gov. Rick Snyder.
Teachers and staff seeking to unionize several Detroit charters rallied in the pouring rain Thursday at a school on the city’s southwest side to make their case for collective bargaining. The wet, umbrella-toting crowd, which totaled about 250 people, was a mix of parents, community supporters and school employees.
They gathered to publicize a request for a union election filed that day with the National Labor Relations Board. The campaign involves four campuses of the Cesar Chavez Academy, a charter which has been operating in Detroit for around 15 years. The academy’s schools, named after the famous Latino labor leader, are run by the Leona Group, a charter operator that runs more than 60 schools in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.
If the union drive succeeds employees would be represented by the Michigan Alliance of Charter Teachers & Staff, a group affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the AFL-CIO. Currently only one charter school in the state is organized under the AFT. It’s the second attempt to formally unionize Cesar Chavez Academy in recent years. A 2006 effort to hold a union election through the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) fell flat — with MERC finding that the charter school workers didn’t qualify as public employees and dismissing the petition.
Organizers with the current campaign say a clear majority of the academy’s staff have signed on in favor of a union. Their employer, however, isn’t quite as enthusiastic. A recent request for immediate union recognition was declined by the charter operator.
Leona Group spokesman Mike Atkins told the Huffington Post they had received the letter and explained their reasons for rejecting the offer.
“We think that the system, the process that’s set up by the National Labor Relations Board for secret ballot elections giving every employee the opportunity to cast the ballot without anybody standing over their shoulder or pushing them in any particular direction is an important right,” he said. “We thought it’s gone really well for them, but if they think there are some issues that need collective bargaining that’s perfectly all right to do so — and the election will indicate that.”
Atkins expects a union election to held within 45 days of the NLRB request.