Subject: [SocialistWorker.org] Chicago charter goes union
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Report: Carlos Enriquez
======== CHICAGO CHARTER GOES UNION ==========================================
Carlos Enriquez reports on an organizing victory at a charter school in
June 6, 2012
TWO DAYS after a unanimous vote to unionize, teachers at the Youth Connection
Leadership Academy received a notice of closure from the charter school's
board. But after public outcry and the scheduling of a press conference
outside of the board's monthly meeting, it was decided to leave the school
open for the time being.
The school, Youth Connection Leadership Academy, is an alternative high
school located on the South Side of Chicago in the predominately African
American Bronzeville neighborhood. The school is entirely composed of
students who have been expelled from the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system.
The charter school is made up of only about 180 students and employs 20
teachers and staff. The teachers at the school are the newest members of
Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (Chicago ACTS), which is Local
4343 of the American Federation of Teachers.
The motivation to unionize came from the teachers feeling that the board was
overlooking them when making decisions that affected the students. "We felt
that all major decisions were made over our head," stated Rachel Blackburn,
YCLA teacher. "These decisions affect students, and we want to be there to
guide them through changes. We are on the forefront, and we understand the
need of our students. We want to have a voice."
Upon hearing of the vote to unionize, the body that oversees YCLA, the Youth
Connection Charter School (YCCS) network, sent letters to each teacher
individually informing them of plans to close down the school.
The letter didn't mention the teachers' decision to unionize as a reason to
close--instead, it cited "low" retention and "poor" attendance numbers that
failed to meet CPS's criteria. But the timing of the news seemed very
suspicious. In response, Chicago ACTS immediately filed an unfair labor
practice against the school's board.
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ONCE THE news of the school's closure broke out, the newly formed teachers'
union--with the aid of the Chicago Teachers Union and other allies--called
for a 4:30 p.m. press conference on May 31, the day of the decisive board
One of the key reasons noted by the union for the press conference was
getting the word out to the community about the board's unfair treatment of
teachers and students, as well as how detrimental a potential closure would
be to the community.
Among the speakers were YCLA graduate and teacher Nicole Durham, who spoke on
the importance of alternative schools and of having an organized workforce in
order to offer the students best education possible. Durham mentioned that
unlike most other charters, YCLA doesn't have selective enrollment criteria,
and the fact that closing a school comprised of students that need a second
chance would leave them in a very difficult situation.
Other speakers at the press conference included students, parents and members
of the CTU.
"The one thing teachers have within their ability to control is whether or
not they can organize," said Jackson Potter, the CTU chief of staff. "They
have rights to demand things for their students and their colleagues. When
these teachers went and exercised their rights, [officials] threatened to
close down the school. When they close our schools, they wreak havoc and
disruption to our communities."
The solidarity shown between the CTU and the newly unionized YCLA teachers
demonstrates who really cares about the safety and education of the youth of
Chicago. Furthermore, it highlights the hypocrisy of the Chicago Public
Schools and is proof that in the age of school "reform," the only thing
corporate-influenced school boards care about is privatization and helping
business to profit off education.
Along with the entire teaching staff, also in attendance were teachers from
other charter schools, members of the Occupy Chicago Labor Working Group,
Jobs with Justice and other members of the community.
Inside the board meeting, around 100 people packed the room and shared
concerns and demands for better schooling. The board came off as very
indecisive, and appeared to have least momentarily been persuaded by the
fightback from the teachers and their union, the students, the parents and
supporters throughout the city.
The struggle to save teachers jobs at YCLA, along with other charter schools
facing union-busting, will foreshadow with the overall battle of the CTU
against CPS and union-busting, anti-labor Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the union's
struggle for a good contract.
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