Unions Go 1 for 2 in Charter School Representation Elections

By Michael Rose

Sept. 9 — A pair of union representation elections at charter schools in Pennsylvania and New York had opposite results.

Workers at Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School in King of Prussia, Pa., voted 57-15 in favor of representation by the Pennsylvania State Education Association, while staff at Hyde Leadership Charter School in Brooklyn, N.Y., voted 13-23 against representation by the United Federation of Teachers, the National Labor Relations Board said on its website.

The PSEA is affiliated with the National Education Association and the UFT with the American Federation of Teachers.

The votes at Hyde were counted Sept. 8 and those at PVCS Sept. 7.

Workers voted in 2015 at PVCS and in 2014 at Hyde, but the ballots were impounded until the board issued decisions in late August, asserting jurisdiction over the two schools.

Although the cases don’t set a clear precedent that all charter school employees are covered by the National Labor Relations Act, they reflect an uptick in organizing under the federal labor law rather than under state laws covering public-sector workers.

New York Union Sought State Process

In the case of Hyde, the employer filed for the representation election on the same day that the union began a process under state law, and the issue wasn’t resolved until the NLRB’s Aug. 24 decision.

A spokesman for the AFT referred questions to the UFT in New York, where a spokeswoman didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The state law process would have allowed the union to collect signatures and organize with majority support, rather than through an election.

Thomas Walsh, an attorney with Jackson Lewis in White Plains, N.Y., who represented Hyde, told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 9 the result of the tally wasn’t final until certified by the NLRB but that the school in asking for the election had wanted workers to have the opportunity to vote on union representation.

“They made their selection and that’s pretty much the long and short of it,” Walsh said.

In a statement released at the time of the NLRB decision, AFT President Randi Weingarten said the union’s efforts to organize teachers at charter schools would continue, whether under state or federal law.

PSEA ‘Hopeful’ for Bargaining

Commenting on the PVCS vote, Wythe Keever, a spokesman for the PSEA, told Bloomberg BNA the union was “hopeful the employer will recognize the union and promptly begin bargaining a fair contract, in accordance with the expressed wish of the workers in the representation election.”

In a statement provided to Bloomberg BNA, however, the PVCS said it disagreed with the NLRB’s finding that it was a private employer.

“PA Virtual was authorized by the Department of Education for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” the statement said. “PA Virtual is a faithful steward of its charter and abides by the same laws and principles as any other public school in the state.”

“Members of the PA Virtual Board of Trustees and administration, both of whom are public officials, respect the right for our staff, who are public employees, to organize under a collective bargaining agreement. However, concerns remain regarding our public school being categorized as a private employer,” the school said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Rose in Washington at mrose@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

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