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Charter school teachers vote to join UFT

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 5/30/2012, 6:42 p.m.
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This month has seen a flurry of activity from charter school teachers involving the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and its relationship with schools ultimately under the control of the Department of Education.

A couple of weeks ago, teachers at the Sisulu-Walker Charter School of Harlem won an order from Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) Director Monte Klein, confirming their decision to join the UFT.

Initially, the teachers decided to join the union in 2010, but their school board didn't recognize the UFT, saying that teachers on the school's leadership team couldn't join the union. The situation prompted Walter Sisulu's son Max to write a letter asking the school's trustees to recognize the union. Walter Sisulu is the anti-apartheid activist after whom the charter school was named.

The news of the PERB's approval was music to UFT President Michael Mulgrew's ears. "This is a good day for the teachers and students at Sisulu-Walker," he said. "This will give the Sisulu-Walker teachers a real voice and the chance to create a better learning environment for their students."

But that wasn't the only news on the charter school front this month.

Teachers and staff members at the Academy of the City (AOC) Charter School in Long Island City have announced they too will seek UFT representation.

In a letter submitted to their school's board of trustees, the staff stated that they needed to speak as one and represent their interests.

"We made this decision because we believe it is critical for us to establish a formal collective voice within our school community," read the letter. "The recognition of the teaching and professional staff as respected partners of AOC is fundamental to the success of our school and to the realization of its mission to empower students."

The staff also notified PERB that they're seeking union representation. According to the UFT, if the school's governing board doesn't recognize the union as a bargaining representative within 30 days, the UFT can ask PERB to certify the unit on the basis of authorization cards.

"These educators want to share a voice and deserve the opportunity to have a greater say in the decisions that affect their students," said Mulgrew. AOC now represents the 17th charter school staff group working with the UFT.