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Propel Charter School Staff Votes To Unionize By Three-To-One Margin

A teacher leads a class at Propel Hazelwood, a K-8 school in Pittsburgh.
Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA
A teacher leads a class at Propel Hazelwood, a K-8 school in Pittsburgh.

Employees at Allegheny County’s largest charter school network have voted resoundingly to form a union. Propel Schools staff backed the move in a 236-82 vote, the Pennsylvania State Education Association said Thursday.

Up to 435 staff across 13 campuses could join the bargaining unit, according to PSEA’s region advocacy coordinator, Matt Edgell. PSEA will now represent Propel employees.

Eleventh-grade English teacher Conor McAteer helped to lead the union drive. He said his colleagues want to have more say in setting policies on teacher pay, scheduling, performance evaluations, and other matters.

“I’m hoping that … unilateral decisions of the past will become more collaborative decisions,” said McAteer, who teaches at Propel’s Andrew Street High School in Munhall. “We really like that we have a large bargaining unit, because I think that it gives us a good amount of bargaining power.”

Propel administrators opposed the union campaign, and labor organizers accused school leaders of using aggressive tactics to discourage unionization. But in a statement Thursday, Propel spokesperson Sonya Meadows said the charter network accepts the vote.

“We respect our staff and the result of the election,” the statement said. “While the vote did not go in the direction we would have desired, we remain committed to our mission of providing quality education to Allegheny County parents who seek a better option than what their traditional public school offers.”

The National Labor Relations Board conducted the vote-by-mail election over a three-week period starting in early April. The union will cover full- and part-time non-supervisory staff, including teachers, counselors, nurses, and others.

Nationally, only one out of every 10 charter schools is unionized, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The independently-run public schools experiment with different educational approaches, and some of the schools’ supporters worry that collective bargaining comes at the expense of flexibility.