About Your Legal Rights: Charter School Employees
From National Right to Work
The unionization of charter schools is increasing at a rapid rate, having increased 444 percent in the last decade (2001-10) over the previous decade (1992-2000). However, the actual number or percentage of unionized charter schools varies greatly from state to state. During the 2009-10 school year, 24 of the 40 states with charter schools had a least one charter school that had a bargaining agreement with a union. All of the charter schools in Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, and Maryland were unionized, along with 171 in Wisconsin, 122 in California, and 42 in Ohio. These unionized schools constitute 72 percent of the unionized charter schools in the country. See “Unionized Charter Schools: Data from 2009-10.”
Unionization means the natural rights of employees to deal with the employer on terms and conditions of employment are taken away from the employees and handed to the union who is deemed to be their exclusive representative.
However, most employees prefer a workplace where they are free to discuss their terms and conditions of employment directly with the employer, without intervention by a third-party. See “Union Members – 2011.”
The problem with the Soviet Union was not its leaders or its employees; it was the closed, uncompetitive economic system that stifled its innovation. We have the Soviet equivalent in our schools; it’s a system that shuns competition and thwarts change. But in America, it’s the [union] collective bargaining agreements that are the glue keeping the monopoly together.
Eva Moskowitz, “Breakdown,” Education Next, summer 2006. (Dr. Moskowitz is the former chair of the New York City Council Education Committee and current founder & CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools, which operates 12 charter schools in Harlem, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan.)
Even if there is union involvement, most employees also prefer a workplace in which union membership and the payment of dues is voluntary, as this forces the union hierarchy to be more accountable to the rank-and-file workers. It also forces union officials to sell the benefits of union representation and membership to the individual employees, instead of relying on threats, intimidation, and even firings to gain financial support. See “Public Opinion on Right to Work”; “Voluntary Unionism Serves Workers, Not Bosses.”
When there is a union in, or trying to get into, the workplace, the rights of charter school employees are covered by labor and constitutional law. These laws generally provide the same rights and protections to employees in the public and private sectors. However, the details are somewhat different between the public and private sectors. Therefore, to know the exact rights in this situation, the charter school employee must first determine if he or she is a public-sector or private-sector employee.
Generally, if the employees are hired directly by a public charter school, and their paycheck is issued by the charter school, they most likely are considered public-sector employees. However, if the employees work at a public charter school but were hired directly by a private management company that provides educational services to the public charter school, and the private company issues their paycheck, then the employees are most likely considered private-sector employees. Such private companies that contract with charter schools to provide educational services and employees, which occurs in less than 30 percent of charter schools, go by different names: charter-school management organization (“CMO”); education management organization (“EMO”); etc. Whether employed directly by the charter school or at a charter school by a CMO/EMO, the website will refer to both types of employees as charter school employees.
Public-sector employees are governed by state labor laws, and depending upon state law, may file a charge with a state labor board or a claim in state court. Private-sector employees are governed by the National Labor Relations Act, and may file unfair labor practice charges before the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “Board”). For further legal advice and to determine whether a charter school employee is a private- or public-sector employee, contact a Foundation staff attorney at (800) 336-3600, by email or click here to fill out a legal aid request form.
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation defends America's workers against the abuses of compulsory unionism.
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