Teachers Approve Move To Unionize At Environmental Charter School

Dec 20, 2018

Teachers at a Regent Square school are the most recent charter school employees in the region to unionize. 

Thirty-nine of the 73 staff members who cast ballots Wednesday night voted yes to form a collective bargaining unit. 

The group signed a petition last month asking to join the American Federation of Teachers, the parent organization that represents Pittsburgh Public Schools teachers.

According to the AFT, Environmental Charter School teachers, nurses, counselors, social workers, academic coaches and educational assistants all participated in the vote. The official ballot has been submitted to the National Labor Relations Board. 

The Environmental Charter School professionals will now, “move to collectively bargain a first contract with their administration that bolsters voice in decision making and improves job security amid the school’s expansion plans.”

The charter school enrolls more than 600 students on two campuses. Leaders say the school will expand to a third location in 2019, in the former Rogers elementary school in Garfield. They also expect to serve high school students in 2020.

According to the school’s website, the staff retention rate is 93 percent, there are two educators in every classroom and the ratio of students to faculty is 11 to 1.

CEO John McCann said in a statement that there has been a “spirited and emotional” debate during the last month as teachers have moved forward with unionization.

“An enduring characteristic of our organization has always been the ability to embrace opposing views in the pursuit of constant innovation and improvement. As we return in the new year, we will all turn our collective energies to doing what ECS does well: working shoulder to shoulder in the joyful service of our students and families,” he said.

Lauren Palamara, a K-1 environmental literacy teacher and organizing committee member, said organizing will give staff opportunities for collaboration.

“We have worked hard over the past months to get to where we are today. We’ve had countless conversations together as a staff – honest and meaningful dialogue that we have already learned important lessons from,” she said.

The AFT now represents 7,500 members at 237 charter schools across the country. According to the union, educators at 12 charter schools have joined the AFT since the summer of 2017.

“Charter school professionals around the country are joining together for their kids – to boost resources, improve job security and negotiate a real say in how their classrooms are run,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “The ECS educators love their school, and just like their peers, they decided that a union could give them the voice they need to make it an even better place for teaching and learning. The union will now work closely with administrators to forge a truly collaborative relationship that will create the latitude and voice to help students pursue their dreams.”  

Other charter school staffs in Pennsylvania have already unionized. Most recently, teachers with Agora Cyber Charter School organized in 2016.