Saturday, February 21, 2015

How ugly will labor brawls get at charter schools in the city?

Back when I first started working in the news business, I was writing for a suburban newspaper where the reporter-types tried organizing themselves into a union – a chapter of the Newspaper Guild, to be exact.

That was more than a quarter century ago in Chicago Heights, yet I still remember the degree to which newspaper management went out of their way to discourage us from even considering unionization.

THE HARASSING LETTERS we used to get from law firms hired by the ownership telling us we ought to be grateful anybody even considered employing slugs such as ourselves. We were only talented when such skills benefitted management’s concerns.

All the private talks from higher-up editors, trying to make it seem like we’re all buddies who don’t really need unionization and how the reason such “friendship” was threatened was because of us blasted reporter-types who would dare to think we might gain something by sticking together as one.

Along with the harassment that came in the days following our union election defeat – including being told by an editor about the “attitude” I had developed that they were sure I would overcome “somewhere else.”

In all honesty, I have to admit that I wasn’t fired. I kept working there for another two months, and they wound up giving me a top-notch reference that benefitted me into getting into the many years of wire service work that I wound up doing in my news career.

NOW WHY DO I feel compelled to share any of this labor angst I encountered many years ago at a publication that isn’t even in existence any longer?

It’s just the natural memories that pop into my mind whenever I learn of someone deciding they’re going to take on the legal fight of trying to organize themselves into a local chapter of a labor union.

The latest is the announcement by teachers at Urban Prep Academy and North Lawndale College Prep, saying they want to organize themselves by joining the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers. They think they can more fairly be compensated for their work by engaging in collective bargaining to reach a contract for all.

Those teachers are going to get pushback more intense than anything I ever endured, largely because they’re working at charter schools – those outfits that are allowed to set many of their own operating guidelines.

PROPONENTS OF CHARTER schools claim that gives them more flexibility to operate in ways that improve educational quality. Although I’ve always felt the reason those schools have potential to achieve better educational results is because they have small enrollments and can reject the masses that might want to attend there – but for which there is no room.

One of the real reasons that those schools get backing is because many of them are non-union. Many of the proponents of charter schools are more interested in trying to undermine the labor unions that represent school teachers.

Which is why I expect that the people operating those schools are going to put up as much of a legal fight as is possible in order to avoid the prospect of labor unions getting set up there.

I’m sure they’re going to feel like the presence of unions will undermine the very principles upon which charter schools were created!

WHICH IS WHY I’m sure the Chicago Teachers Union was able to enjoy the statement they issued Friday; one expressing “solidarity” with teachers at the two inner-city schools that admittedly try to create an academic attitude amongst their students that prepares them for the possibility of attending a university some day.

“The teachers at these privately-held, publicly-funded charter schools are just as fed up as teachers in our non-charter public schools, and they’re saying they’ve had enough of the top-down bureaucracy,” union President Karen Lewis said. “We strongly support the… teachers in their efforts to unionize to ensure that both they and their students have the resources and environment they need to succeed.”

While those charter school teachers said Friday they hope management immediately recognizes their desires and doesn’t require a secret-ballot election, I’d be surprised if it happened that easily.

More likely, those teachers will be in for a legal brawl that will burn into their brains memories they will vividly recall a quarter-of-a-century from now, along with stories that likely will have them telling me how I “had it easy” when I endured a fight all those years ago.


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