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Charter school leader becomes oddly passive as union organizes UNO teachers through the ‘card check’ process

May 31, 2013 by

CHICAGO – Earlier this month, teachers and staff at all 13 of the United Neighborhood Organization’s (UNO) charter schools in Chicago agreed to unionize.

This development was not only a disappointment to school choice advocates, but also a shock.

Juan Rangel, UNO’s CEO and an ally of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, has historically been an outspoken proponent of school reform and choice, and has repeatedly chastised the radical Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), particularly during its strike last September.

But in March Rangel turned heads by coming to an agreement with the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (ACTS), allowing the union access to all UNO campuses and giving representatives the freedom to sign up teachers through the controversial card-check process.

ACTS is not part of the CTU, but shares a common affiliation with the American Federation of Teachers.

When the majority of teachers in the school network signed cards, all teachers became union members. That occurred a few weeks ago.

While it’s true that Rangel couldn’t legally stop his employees from unionizing, he certainly didn’t have to roll out the red carpet for organized labor. His “agreement” to allow Chicago ACTS to recruit members on campus sent a definite signal to employees that unionization was a desirable goal.

So what happened to the Rangel who detested teachers unions and stood up for the charter school way?

One clue could be the ongoing scandal regarding state construction funds that were awarded to UNO to build a new high school.

UNO was accused of steering construction contracts to a company run by the family of a former board member. The state has frozen $98 million in construction money as a result.

The scandal prompted Rangel to resign earlier this week as chairman of the UNO board, although he will remain CEO of the school chain.

Perhaps Rangel, in his eagerness to gain back the $98 million in state construction money, decided that playing nice with the unions would be a wise strategy. Illinois is a very union-friendly state, and Rangel and UNO apparently need all the friends they can get at the moment.

Looking for the real Rangel

juan rangelWould the real Juan Rangel please stand up?

An audio clip posted on last fall, features Rangel speaking out against the union, its 10-day strike and the tendency of most teachers unions to oppose necessary school reforms.

“The reason for such a slow pace of (school) reform in the past two decades is that each reform measure that has been introduced has been met with strong opposition from powerful forces protecting their adult interests.

“How dare we introduce parent choice in the public schools through charter schools? Never mind the children languishing in mediocrity called a public school. The ongoing labor negotiations between CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union, and especially the pending announcement today from the Teachers Union that they have decided to issue a ten-day strike notice, is evidence of that.”

In a speech to the City Club in the fall of 2012, shortly before the CTU strike, Rangel said, “For adults to even consider opening school next Tuesday for hundreds of thousands of children, children who are eager to begin their school year ready to learn after a long summer break, only to have the adults pull the rug from underneath them by closing down their school a week later, is totally irresponsible and reckless behavior.

“We should expect more from adults, and certainly should expect more from the educators of our youth.”

UNO even went so far as to air radio ads during the CTU strike, touting the fact that its network of non-unionized teachers were on the job, thereby preventing disruption in the academic lives of its approximately 7,000 students.

It was clearly an invitation for disgusted parents to pull their kids out of CPS and enroll them in UNO schools.

So when UNO announced its deal with Chicago ACTS in March 2013, allowing the union exclusive access to campuses and teachers, school reform proponents were stunned and furious.

The wording of a press release posted on the UNO website caught everyone off guard:

“UNO has long-held strong relationships with unions and we believe that the labor movement is an essential partner in the fight for social justice and economic equality. This agreement is also a step toward ensuring public education is about collaboration instead of competition and polarization. This agreement is an opportunity for UNO and Chicago ACTS to elevate the dialogue around school reform in the spirit of cooperation.”

Some would say the agreement was a sell-out of charter school principles, one being that the presence of organized labor is a constant an unnecessary disruption to the education process.

Card-check process was not an election

According to an UNO teacher who wishes to remain anonymous, between early March, the time of the agreement with Chicago ACTS, and early May, union officials were present at UNO campuses nearly every day, relentlessly attempting to “persuade” teachers to sign union cards.

That’s what Rangel agreed to, and that’s what happened.

Despite what numerous press reports suggested, there was no union election with an opportunity for UNO teachers to cast private ballots. Under the card-check system, union officials are free to pressure teachers into signing union cards, and a signed card counts as a “yes” vote for unionization.

There’s no telling how many UNO teachers felt coerced into signing the cards.

At one point the Illinois Policy Institute issued a warning to UNO teachers, explaining what was happening and encouraging them to think through any decision to sign union cards.

“ACTS will have a strong incentive to resort to harassing or misleading tactics in order to collect signatures from UNO teachers,” the warning said. “And by turning over contact information for its teaching staff, UNO has inadvertently increased the risk that teachers will be harassed by ACTS agents. We urge UNO teachers to take your time before you sign!”

Unfortunately the teachers succumbed to union pressure by the droves. So what does this mean for the quality of instruction in UNO schools?

Paul Kersey, Director of Labor Policy at the Illinois Policy Institute, recently penned a worrisome piece about charter schools that go union.

“The vast majority of charter schools, nationwide and in Chicago, are not unionized, and the flexibility that teachers and schools gain from not having a typical union contract does seem to make a difference – one researcher found that nonunion charters in Milwaukee performed better academically.

“The top eight non-selective public schools in Chicago are all nonunion charter schools. There’s a reason for this: without the restrictive terms of a typical union contract, charter schools are able to reward top-performing teachers and experiment with the most promising teaching methods. Unionization could ruin UNO schools.”

UNO officials said the decision to give teachers the choice to unionize was made to ensure a “better working environment” and “competitive pay” for teachers. Couldn’t they provide those benefits for employees without encouraging the presence of a union?

In reality, UNO has given up its competitive advantage in education by becoming yet another school at the beck and call of special interest teachers unions. It has set its schools up to become carbon copies of failing CPS schools, where the union has always come first and children have fallen behind.

What happened, Mr. Rangel? Why did you sell out your supporters, and more importantly, your students?

Charter school leader becomes oddly passive as union organizes UNO teachers through the ‘card check’ process – :: Education Research, Reporting, Analysis and Commentary.

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