Teachers at Three Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, LA’s Largest Operator of Charters, Choose UTLA as their Union — More Alliance Charter Schools Expected to Follow
“Now it’s our turn.” Support for union was in part inspired by recent protests by educators and recent gains by other California charter school teachers who formed unions.
Los Angeles — A clear majority of the educators at three Alliance College-Ready Public Schools filed cards with the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB)
this morning, authorizing United Teachers Los Angeles as their union. Since a majority of the teachers at Alliance College-Ready Middle Academy #5, Alliance Gertz-Ressler Richard Merkin 6-12 Complex, and Alliance Judy Ivie Burton Technology Academy High School signed union authorization cards, an election is not necessary under state law. These three schools, with more than 100 educators, are the first to file. Others in the 25-school charter chain are expected to follow. There are 730 teachers and counselors employed within its network of schools.
“For most of us, this was a simple choice – real decision-making or no decision-making,” said Alisha Mernick, an art teacher at Alliance Gertz-Ressler Richard Merkin 6-12 Complex. “How can you be a professional and say nothing?”
The most common issue for union supporters at Alliance is the lack of decision-making authority teachers possess when it comes to having a say in professional issues affecting their classrooms and their students. “Organizing is a way to put democracy back in our schools,” said Edgar Hermosillo, a history teacher at Alliance Judy Ivie Burton Technology Academy High School. Mernick agreed. “We know the kids,” she said. “Many of us have advanced degrees. We are professionals and want to have our professional judgment and knowledge of our classrooms valued. Surveys and focus groups don’t cut it.”
In addition to the need for a real voice in decisions affecting their schools, students and profession, other key issues that sparked teachers’ efforts to organize include high turnover, inadequate healthcare benefits for teachers with families, as well as a compensation system where much of a teacher’s income is based on an evaluation process that is seen by many as not objective or fair and that the administration has arbitrarily changed at least three times in the last four years.
From its beginning in 2004, teacher turnover at Alliance has been high, exceeding 25 percent of the teaching force per year across the network of schools in some years, and as high as a 40 percent churn rate at individual Alliance schools. Many teachers, frustrated by a top-down approach to delivering education, opt to leave after only a year or two, often seeking positions in districts where teachers already have a voice through collective bargaining.
Teachers also express frustration with the overuse of outside consultants. “They bring in outside consultants and present plans, but seldom ask the experts what we think,” said Mernick.
Interest in union organizing at Alliance has grown in recent weeks as teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona and Colorado have taken action to advocate for more school funding, higher wages and better teaching conditions. “Across the country teachers are taking back education from those calling the shots, many of whom never stepped foot in a classroom,” said Sylvia Cabrera, a resource teacher at Alliance College-Ready Middle Academy #5. “Now it’s our turn. Organizing can be challenging, but we do this because it is necessary.”
“Red state” teachers and their supporters who have taken to the streets since West Virginia teachers walked off the job February 22, did so because they work in states where teachers and other public workers have unions but no right to collectively bargain. “Here in California we have a collective bargaining law that covers public charter school educators, but in order for teachers and counselors to have a voice and a right to sit down with their employer at the bargaining table, they must first organize and be part of a union. That happened today,” said UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl.
Alliance educators won’t be the first California charter school teachers to organize. The number of unionized charters is accelerating. There are currently over 1,600 charter school educators in unions at 40 charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District geographical boundary. And, this week, after four years of organizing, teachers employed at the California Virtual Academy (CAVA) online charter schools across California ratified a first union contract. That agreement included a 17.8 percent wage hike in the first year of the agreement, and, for the first time, limits on caseload and class size. The CAVA schools are affiliated with the large, publicly traded, for-profit education management company K12 Inc. They were also the first charters under the K12 Inc. umbrella to form a union in the nation.
“In this state over 300,000 teachers have collective bargaining agreements that allow them to have the kind of collaboration possible when teachers have legally mandated bargaining,” said Caputo-Pearl.
Teachers at Alliance first began organizing a union in 2015. Initially, Alliance’s school leadership said in their first memo to employees on March 13, 2015 that they would not “endorse or denounce any particular union or unions generally.” However, Alliance’s educators have been barraged by an employer-funded and often illegal, anti-union campaign. The California State Auditor in a report found that the charter chain had spent over $3 million in campaign costs and legal fees fighting its own teachers and trying to pit parents against pro-union teachers. Alliance school’s behavior was so egregious that PERB issued numerous legal complaints against Alliance and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant issued an injunction to stop the violations of educator rights. In addition, PERB has found Alliance management guilty of violating teachers’ rights on numerous issues.
“The schools that filed with the PERB today are just the first wave. This is a growing movement,” said Mernick. “Teachers want to work with the Alliance board and management as partners and not as adversaries. We look forward to productive negotiations. The goal of teachers who have chosen unionization is to have schools that meet the needs of students and parents as well as teachers. That should be management’s goal as well.”
United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) represents more than 35,000 educators who work in charter schools and the Los Angeles Unified School District.
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