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Labor & Worker Rights Tue May 12 2009

Exhibit #500,000 For Labor Law Reform

The news that a successful union organizing drive by the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, or A.C.T.S at Chicago International Charter School has led not to the school recognizign the union and negotiating a contract, but rather a fight over which body, the state IELRB or the federal NLRB is yet another reason why the laws governing the right of workers to free association are broken in the United States. Regardless of one's opinions over the utility and worth of unions, denying workers who voted for union representation the right to be recognized as a collective body is a violation of the labor rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of the few international human rights conventions the United States has signed.

What's depressing about this case is that it is not unique. In about one third of the successful union elections, no contract is signed within a year, usually do to management intransigence. Given the current toothless labor laws in the US and the weakness of the NLRB, there are few punishments for employers who, even in the face of a successful election, do all they can to prevent free speech and free association among their employees.

There are even more horror stories on the "front-end" of a union election process. The claim that the current system of workplace representation elections under the NLRB are "free and fair elections" held under "secret ballots" is comical. John McCain and Barack Obama (and to his credit, Richard Daley) never took me and my friends into "captive audience meetings" where they bashed the other side and demanded I vote a certain way or face consequences (which happens in 92% of union elections*). I never had to meet with my boss one-on-one to explain how I was voting either (78% of the time). And Daley never threatened to close down the city if I didn't vote for him (51% of employers facing union organizing drives threaten to close the plant).

Laws and regulations should protect the rights of employees to make informed, non-coerced decisions on how they best can excercise their rights to free association and improve their workplace conditions. As in the case of the International Charter School, all to often, current US labor law does little to prevent unethical employers from using every dirty trick to prevent the exercise of those rights.

*all numbers are from Steven Greenhouse's "The Big Squeeze"

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CICS Teacher / May 12, 2009 4:52 PM

Very good post. However, the proper name of the organization is "Chicago International Charter School," not "International Charter School."

Good Luck / May 12, 2009 5:31 PM

The whole point of charter schools is to keep kids away from the reach of the public teachers union and let them benefit from effective teaching methods.

So lets say the union wins and succeeds in organizing. Then the parents transfer their kids to a different school, and then the charter school closes.

Would you have the honesty to admit that the union played a integral role in the closing?

CICS Teacher / May 12, 2009 9:12 PM

"Then the parents transfer their kids to a different school, and then the charter school closes."

We've had dozens of parents calling Dr. Purvis to ask her to recognize the union, so I don't think your scenario is very likely.

If the point of charter schools is to keep students away from union teachers, it seems weird that charter law repeatedly affirms the rights of charter teachers to be represented by a union, don't you think?

Also, the law regarding teacher unionization doesn't give the union authority to bargain over "teaching methods" (just class loads, salaries and other things directly related to work conditions and compensation), so your implication that a union will result in less effective teaching is more evidence that you don't know what you're talking about.

Brian Miller / May 13, 2009 10:08 AM

I don't know why I had to go to the linked story to get a complete telling of this story. It seems the charter schools disagree with which agency would recognize the union, one that oversees public employees or one that oversees private employees. This must mean a great deal for contract negotiations.

Good Luck / May 13, 2009 4:09 PM

Call it what it is - an attempt to get charter schools under control of a union. Which is really sad because giving parents options in education is more important than protecting the vested interests of the teachers union.

Just look at how the DC Voucher program was killed - a program that saved money and was more effective than the public school alternative. This is the same end, just different means.

CICS - I can't imagine how any charter school would be allowed to open without such language. This city is controlled by democrats, who rely on unions for votes.

Jacob / May 13, 2009 4:42 PM

Thanks for reading!
Actually, the evidence on student outcomes under voucher programs is ambiguous (even libertarian bloggers agree) They do save money, that's for sure, and that's the most important thing right, cutting the salaries of workers and saving money, whatever the results for students might be.

CICS teacher / May 13, 2009 5:08 PM

Good luck:

So, the politicians who authorized and fund charter schools are in the pockets of unions, but "whole point of charter schools is to keep kids away from the reach of the public teachers union"?

That doesn't make any sense. Why would politicians who rely on the support of unions create an institution that worked to weaken them?

Speaking of politicians who support the union...

Brian Miller / May 13, 2009 8:31 PM

How not to write and moderate a blog piece, conducted by Jacob L. Argue about unions but do so in the proper context. And don't take political shots at your readers. Is this Gaper's Block or Daily Kos?

Good Luck / May 13, 2009 10:18 PM

Wow, you've got quite a list there. Emil Jones - impressive.

You also have the support of the IL Communist Party.

...any other shady characters you want to mention?

Jacob, you should be glad someone is reading. Far too often (if I can steal the over-used phrase from the president) the mechanics section reads like Pravda for the collectivist set.

Its not exactly the "reflecting the diversity of viewpoints and beliefs of Chicagoans and Illinoisans." but that is beside the point.

See, you set up this false choice that by allowing freedom of choice in education, you are also choosing to lower the salaries of people providing education services. Its a ridiculous argument, but necessary for your position.

Jacob / May 13, 2009 10:47 PM

Umm.. I was actually being serious about being glad you're reading and commenting. Sorry if it came across as snarky, given I have 3 people reading it's probably bad to piss off one of them. As to your other point, I'm not sure choice in education=essentially banning unions from schools. The larger point I was trying to make is that you're essentially denying people a right to free association when you refuse to recognize a union election in a workplace. This seems especially problematic when we're not sure that non-union charter schools or voucher programs actually "work."
Again, really, thanks for taking time to read and comment. I do appreciate it. Honestly.

Good Luck / May 14, 2009 11:28 AM


I've read over the review of the DC voucher program and while the review is based off of one year of implementation, so I agree that it is an incomplete review (and a shame the program was scuttled by the democrat leadership, but again, this is political, not about education).

However, the review did show that test scores were higher than their public alternative, although not statistically significant higher scores (again, the one year problem). Parental satisfaction with the program was clearly better than the public alternative, with parental feeling of safety being markedly improved. When you consider that DC is regulary in the top rankings for crime, you can't dismiss that effect. Nor can you dismiss that in Chicago, public schools are some of the most dangerous places to be (how many kids have been shot so far?)

From a policy standpoint, what this does show is that a program that costs 33% less than its public alternative has proven to deliver similar quantitative results and superior qualitative results.

Insert a union and the growing pension/entitlement base that comes along with it and you have a system that will mirror its public alternative in X years time. That negates the whole point of charter schools.

Unions typically have this reverse-Midas touch about them, just look to California and how their budget is held hostage to union requirements.

I'm all for the law - if the teachers vote to unionize, let them unionize. However, in X years when you point to this as proof that charter schools are no better than public schools, lets just be honest about it and say that this is the point that made it so.

Brian Miller / May 14, 2009 12:07 PM

I re-read the comment without the expected snark. oops. I am sorry. My point was that the linked article is about private versus public employees. Private employees, depending on what the court decides, cannot be public employees, no matter what they vote for. Whether or not vouchers or charters schools work is another issue.

Jacob / May 14, 2009 5:55 PM

No worries. Such seems to be the nature of internet communication. I do think good luck raises an interesting issue. If we know
1. union employees are generally more productive
2. union employees earn better wages, etc.
3. the right to free association in a union is pretty important

then why can't we can't we do education reform, restructure the auto industry without union-busting or how do we create alternative forms of worker association that brings the historical benefits of unionization without the associate baggage (if we admit that baggage exists). Anyhoo, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

Good Luck / May 14, 2009 9:23 PM

Yes, text-based communication is not well suited for nuance.

I'd be interested to hear thoughts on how to bring unions into the 21st century, because as opposed as I am to their current form and tactics, I do see the historical value they have provided.

..and if you want to write something up on the auto companies, that is an interesting case as well.

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