Employees at the Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls, a charter school, voted unanimously at the National Labor Relations Board on Nov. 26 to join the UFT.
“The union movement is getting traction in a charter school at a time when people thought we were crushed,” said Anne Goldman, the UFT’s vice president for non-DOE members, and the vote shows that “philosophical unity under the union banner is stronger than ever.”
Staffers at the elementary and middle school voted 50-0 to join the union. “The unique feature in organizing is when the staff relates to each other with one voice,” said Goldman.
Miles Trager, the UFT’s coordinator of services and negotiations for charter and private schools, called the Global Learning Institute staff “very strong and energized.”
“There was no space here for an ‘anti’ campaign,” he said, citing the school’s weak economic package as a major reason for unionizing.
Diane Biondo, the K–2 instructional coach and an organizing committee member, said staff wanted some ownership of the school. “Of course we want to look out for ourselves and our families, but we also want to stand behind our school, which we love, and stand behind the girls to make sure they get what they need,” she said.
The issues, she said, are three-fold.
“First, professionals need to be paid for their experience and their expertise and we’re not,” leading to high turnover, Biondo said. While teachers start on par with a DOE salary, she said, “in two years they start to fall behind and after three they are really behind. I would coach and train and support and develop, and after three years teachers would leave.”
The staff wants a salary schedule and pay equity with DOE staff and each other. And “everybody wants to be compensated for our long hours (7:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.),” says Shanika Allen, a school counselor.
The second piece is an obstructive process that requires a vote by the board of directors for most everything — including procurement of resources and student supplies — teachers said, and the system is painfully slow. As a result, teachers want more of a voice in how the school is governed.
Allen said “sometimes it seems there’s a disconnect” between management and the professional staff. The consequent lack of communication makes it difficult to have a unified school.
The third issue is concern about the future of the school, which has only two years left on its current charter.
“We’re doing this,” Biondo said, “to keep the school alive.”