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KIPP management so far hasn't recognized teachers' campaign

Labor-management relations may be off to a rocky start so far at KIPP AMP, the Brooklyn charter school where teachers shocked the charter school community last month by petitioning to join the powerful United Federation of Teachers.

The trouble is that KIPP management has so far declined to recognize the teachers’ petition, something the leaders have 30 days to do — or else defer to a more contentious process, the state labor board. Allowing the labor board to decide whether to recognize the petitions opens the door for KIPP to make a legal case against unionization. The 30-day period ends next Thursday.

It is not clear why KIPP is not recognizing the petitions, or whether the charter school network will do so by Thursday. Union officials said they recently sent the charter school network a reminder letter, restating the 30-day deadline, but KIPP has still not recognized. Dave Levin, the KIPP co-founder and superintendent of New York City KIPP schools who will have to make the final decision, has not returned my requests for comment.

Briscoe Smith, the senior vice president and counsel at a Manhattan-based foundation that helps charter schools fight unions (and is loathed by the UFT), said he has not consulted with KIPP. But he said it is possible for managers to challenge workers’ efforts to unionize.

“Sometimes the employer claims that the bargaining unit is improperly drawn. Maybe other irregularities might be uncovered,” he said. “Maybe former employees submitted recognition cards.”

But employers can only poke legal holes if the holes exist to begin with. If the KIPP AMP teachers’ petitions and process are airtight, KIPP has no choice but to enter collective bargaining. “If the union has done what the law requires, there’s not one awful lot that the employer can do,” Smith said.

One thing there’s no longer time to do is consult Atlantic Legal’s guide for charter school leaders concerned about unionization. The guide offers strategies for staving off an organizing campaign before it’s completed — do issue talking points on why unions hurt students and maybe even teachers; do not offer bribes — but it does not make suggestions for what to do after a majority of teachers file petitions.

It could be, though, that other charter school leaders are thumbing away at that PDF. Charter school leaders have been on notice that the union was reaching out to their teachers since at least last year, but the KIPP AMP teachers’ unionization took their fears into overdrive. A prominent charter school leader described the atmosphere to me as a “tizzy.” One Brooklyn school leader held a meeting with staff to let them air out any concerns. Their eyes, too, are on what will happen by next Thursday.

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