NLRB to oversee union-organizing vote at Philadelphia charter school

Posted: April 01, 2013

Nearly two years after teachers at a charter school in Northwest Philadelphia expressed interest in forming a union, they will get a chance to vote later this month.

And, in what union officials said will be a first for a charter school in Pennsylvania, New Media's union election will be overseen by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) instead of Pennsylvania's state labor board.

At the request of the charter school, the national board took jurisdiction of New Media's election as a result of a recent NLRB decision that said the Chicago Mathematics & Science Academy Charter School was not a public school.

The NLRB ruled in December that although the Chicago charter was funded mostly by taxpayers, it was founded by a nonprofit organization, was overseen by its own board, and was not part of state or local government.

Instead, the NLRB decided the Chicago charter school was essentially a government subcontractor and should be covered by the same union process as private businesses under the national board's jurisdiction.

New Media and AFT Pennsylvania - the union teachers have been working with - have agreed that staff at the grade 6-12 charter in the Cedarbrook section will vote by secret ballot April 24 whether to be represented by a union.

"New Media is the first charter school in Pennsylvania to cite the Chicago NLRB decision, and the union election will be the first NLRB election at a Pa. charter school," Ted Kirsch, president of AFT Pennsylvania wrote in an e-mail last week.

"Whether charter employees are under public labor law or under private-sector labor law, these workers have a right to freely form a union, and we will continue to defend their rights," he said. "In fact, workers' rights are even stronger under private-sector law with a wider scope of bargaining."

Diane Apa Hauser, a lawyer representing New Media, said the charter "asked the NLRB to hold an election to determine whether a majority of its employees wish to be represented by the AFT."

She said the charter chose the NLRB because of the recent ruling in Chicago.

"These cases are just starting to come up more frequently because charter schools are proliferating, and there is organizing going on," said Diane Cleeland, who directs the public affairs office at the NLRB in Washington.

She said the NLRB did not claim authority over all charters and would evaluate each request on a case-by-case basis.

"We don't know how this decision will change the temperature here in Philadelphia," said Kim Johnson, president of AFT-PA's Alliance of Charter School Employees, Local 6056, which represents four charters in the city.

Kirsch said the Chicago case would not affect charter employees who are already unionized, such as those at West Oak Lane Charter School and Khepera in Mount Airy, where Johnson teaches third grade.

New Media teachers had petitioned the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board nearly two years ago to hold an election. At the request of New Media's board, the case was put on hold pending the outcome of the Chicago case.

In the interim, some New Media teachers left. Others were forced to leave when the charter did not renew their 10-month employment contracts.

If New Media's current staffers vote to unionize, they will be represented by the Alliance of Charter School Employees. In addition to West Oak Lane and Khepera, the local represents staff at Delaware Valley Charter High School in Logan and Wakisha Charter in North Philadelphia.


Contact Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or martha.woodall@phillynews.com.

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