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New Ground is Broken as NLRB Will Oversee Charter School Union Election in Philadelphia

In a good news item for organized labor, a union organizing election later this month at the New Media Technology Charter School in northwest Philadelphia will be overseen by the National Labor Relations Board instead of the Pennsylvania state board. The vote will be the first of its kind in Pennsylvania and has been two years in the making.

The request came on behalf of the school and is tied to the NLRB’s decision that Chicago Mathematics & Science Academy Charter School was not a public school. The December decision stated that charter schools are subject to private-sector labor laws that govern union elections for private businesses. Ted Kirsch, president of the American Federation of Teachers of Pennsylvania (AFT-PA), said of the decision:

New Media is the first charter school in Pennsylvania to cite the Chicago NLRB decision, and the union election will be the first NLRB election at a Pa. charter school.

Whether charter employees are under public labor law or under private-sector labor law, these workers have a right to freely form a union, and we will continue to defend their rights,” he said. “In fact, workers’ rights are even stronger under private-sector law with a wider scope of bargaining.”

Unionizing at charter schools is becoming a hot issue due to their recent expansion. In truth, organized labor would prefer to inhibit charterization entirely but has made a concerted effort to unionize charter schools instead of fighting their existence. NLRB Public Affairs Director Diane Cleeland told that the NLRB did not have authority over all charter schools and that they would evaluate each request on a case-by-case basis.

Corporate education interests back charter schools partially because they are traditionally not unionized. The growth of charter schools in the Philadelphia area is directly tied to the public school budget crisis that forced the closure of 23 buildings last month. The upcoming vote is likely to impact this trend. It will be conducted by secret ballot on April 24th.


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