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September 24, 2012

1)  Charter Schools Unionize With a Bang, De-Unionize With a Whimper. When the employees of a charter school decide to form a union, there's a lot of press coverage and chest-thumping. In November 2008, 20 teachers at the Conservatory Lab Charter School in Massachusetts unionized through a card check, and the event was trumpeted in newspapers...

"Teachers unionize at charter school, a first for Mass. Possible setback for state unit"

"Brighton Teachers Form First Charter School Union"

...and of course the union communications organs, led by AFT Massachusetts...

"Charter School Teachers"

...the Massachusetts AFL-CIO...

"AFT-Massachusetts Organizes First Charter School Union in Massachusetts"

...and even reposted by the Massachusetts Building Trades Council.

"AFT-Massachusetts Organizes First Charter School Union in Massachusetts"

The "historic" news was disseminated in 2008 by the national AFT's Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, in 2009 by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO Advocate, reposted in 2010 by Edwize, the blog of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City,  and made the rounds all over again in 2011 when the Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School also unionized.

With all this attention, it is strange that it took an entire month for this news to reach the Internet:

But, in sharp contrast to the fanfare around its creation, the union at the Conservatory Lab Charter School quietly disbanded last month after a long stretch of diminished activity. The state’s only other charter school union, on Cape Cod, remains intact, but has no bylaws and does not collect dues.


"It still exists," said Paul Niles, who directs Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School in East Harwich, where teachers unionized last year. "But I'm not sure active is the right word."

The unions blame this turn of events on staff turnover, which approaches 50 percent. The problem with this reasoning is a) in 2008, staff turnover was blamed on the lack of a union; and b) it turns out that the Conservatory Lab teachers leave for the same reasons teachers leave traditional public schools. In 2009-10, nine teachers left - 2 were non-renewed, 2 for childbirth and child care, one to pursue a doctorate, and four moved out of state.

The debate over charter school unions won't be settled by this or any other single event. But if the establishment of a union in a charter school is historic, then its disestablishment should be equally historic, and worth an equal amount of timely attention.

2)  Last Week's Intercepts. EIA's blog, Intercepts, covered these topics from September 18-24:

*  Fiscally Challenged Union Sponsors Financial Literacy Curriculum. Not a story from The Onion.

Karen Lewis for AFT President? Numbers Don't Add Up. In AFT as well, Chicago is the Second City.

Breach of Contract. The part of the Chicago teachers' collective bargaining agreement neither side abided by.

Charter Caps, Laser Pointers and SuperPACs. Twenty years later, the California Teachers Association still wants caps on charter schools.

Strike Over, Spinning Begins. "Will we be paid this Friday?"

Fresno Teachers Association Will Hold 4th Election in 5 Months. Musical chairs.

3)  Scheduling Note. The next EIA Communiqué will appear Tuesday, October 9.

4)  Quote of the Week. "It's a little easier to throw out an idea and go back and forth when the public's not out there listening and taking notes." - Jennie Peek-Dunstone, executive director of AFT Colorado, commenting on opening collective bargaining sessions to the public. (September 21 Chicago Tribune)


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