A late December decision by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in the case of Chicago Mathematics & Science Academy Charter School, Inc. may appear at first glance to be a loss for teachers unions-because in the short term, it was. But the end result is bad news for states in the long run and a big win for teachers unions.
The case came before the NLRB when the school, CMSA, tried to block a teachers union from organizing the staffers of the school when it filed for a petition to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board. The school filed a complaint with the NLRB, which hears labor law disputes in the private sector, those employers and employees covered under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The union argued that under the Illinois Charter School law, the school was a public entity and would not fall under the organizing provisions of the NLRA but rather the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act (IELRA).
So why the dispute? Labor law experts have said that it’s easier for unions to organize under the IELRA than under federal law. CMSA hoped to avoid dealing with a union affiliated with the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), filled with teachers who walked off the job for seven school days last year. The NLRB sided with CMSA and said that it had jurisdiction over the organizing campaign, even though 80 percent of the charter school’s funding came from the Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
Although the Chicago charter school teachers union might have lost a skirmish, national teachers unions won the war. The labor movement, including teachers unions, has seen precipitous drops in membership in the past few years. Teachers unions are now turning to charter schools, once thought to be schools that could not be organized, in order to increase their numbers. The current NLRB, which has thrown out precedent for the sake of supporting labor, will be a likely ally in future disputes. Furthermore, other states that may have protected charter schools from such labor disputes are now out of luck, and unions will now be able to take advantage there as well.
And of course, with unionization of charter schools comes many of the same problems that plague public schools: archaic tenure and seniority rules, bloated benefits, and a focus on the teachers, to the detriment of the students.
States should be concerned with how this NLRB ruling affects both their budgets and their sovereignty.
The NLRB, a federal board whose members are appointed by the President, has now put the fate of charter school union organizing in its hands and out of the hands of state officials. By considering charter school private entities, charter school officials all over the country will now be carefully watching the Board’s decisions to see what new rules and regulations it will have to follow. States and localities have allowed charter schools to proliferate in a way unique to that state or locality. Notably, the projected costs of such enterprises are based on the idea that the state would always be in control and make adjustments as necessary. A new variable, federal labor law, can put a serious burden on charter schools, as if federal education mandates were not a big enough problem.
There is also a serious federalism concern in this situation. Illinois purposely included charter schools under the IELRA in order to put those institutions on the same legal footing as traditional public schools when it comes to labor law. And Illinois should be allowed to do that. Whether or not the Illinois legislature acted wisely by including charter schools under the IELRA is another matter entirely-and that’s for Illinois citizens to sort out. Here, the NLRB has clearly overreached to pull state education labor policy into the federal realm.
And while the grown-ups squabble over organizing and teacher benefits, the business of educating the students at CMSA falls to the wayside.
Read the original article here.
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