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Why Do Some Charter School Teachers Try to Unionize?

A study by Huriya Jabbar, Jesse Chanin, Jamie Haynes, and Sara Slaughter explores the motivations of teachers in Detroit and New Orleans who tried to unionize their charter schools.

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Why Do Some Charter School Teachers Try to Unionize?

by Huriya Jabbar, Jesse Chanin, Jamie Haynes, Sara Slaughter

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There has been lit­tle research done about how and why teach­ers have tried to orga­nize unions at char­ter schools. In this study, we inter­viewed 21 char­ter-school teach­ers in New Orleans and Detroit who attempt­ed, suc­cess­ful­ly or unsuc­cess­ful­ly, to orga­nize fel­low edu­ca­tors with­in their schools, as well as one char­ter-school teacher who opposed union­iza­tion efforts. We explored why teach­ers pushed for a union and how they described the school’s response to their efforts. Our main find­ings are: The most com­mon moti­va­tion for orga­niz­ing was improv­ing teacher reten­tion and job secu­ri­ty. Lack of pay trans­paren­cy and equi­ty (e.g. men and women being paid unequal­ly), unsus­tain­able work­loads, teacher burnout and arbi­trary fir­ings were also major under­ly­ing con­cerns. Teach­ers also sought to improve the sup­ports pro­vid­ed to vul­ner­a­ble stu­dents and increase teacher lead­er­ship. The teach­ers we inter­viewed report­ed shock at the sever­i­ty of school admin­is­tra­tors’ response to union­iza­tion efforts. Many alleged that admin­is­tra­tors fired teach­ers who attempt­ed to union­ize or accused them of destroy­ing the school fam­i­ly.” High teacher turnover and fear of being fired were major chal­lenges that stymied attempts at union orga­niz­ing. * There were notable dif­fer­ences between Detroit, where many char­ters are for-prof­it, and New Orleans, where they are all non-prof­it. Detroit teach­ers saw low salary as a major issue and com­plained that they were lack­ing basic resources like text­books. Teach­ers in New Orleans did not empha­size salary lev­els as a major issue but were con­cerned about pay trans­paren­cy. This study explores how some teach­ers in char­ter schools are re-fram­ing argu­ments made in favor of unions by putting greater empha­sis on how unions will help not only teach­ers, but also stu­dents, espe­cial­ly vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions such as Eng­lish lan­guage learn­ers and stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties. These teach­ers argue that unions are not anti­thet­i­cal to the mis­sion of char­ters, but in fact would strength­en char­ter schools by increas­ing sta­bil­i­ty and teacher reten­tion. As more char­ter schools open in the U.S., under­stand­ing why some teach­ers want unions is cru­cial, as the role of unions has impli­ca­tions for the long-term future of char­ter schools and the career tra­jec­to­ries of teach­ers who teach in those schools.

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