Teachers at two New York City KIPP charter schools today asked state labor officials to sever their ties from the city teachers union, in petitions signed by every single teacher at the two schools. The move is a powerful response to efforts by teachers at another KIPP school in Brooklyn, KIPP AMP, who in the past few months have sought to join the politically powerful union, the United Federation of Teachers.
Teachers at KIPP Infinity and KIPP Academy charter schools, considered the two premier members of the high-profile charter network’s New York City branch, sent the petitions. The schools’ affiliations with the union were loose to begin with: KIPP Academy is represented by the union only because it was one of the city’s original charter schools, and it could only transition to charter status on the condition that it remained represented by the teachers union, and KIPP Infinity teachers are represented by the union only in order to get health benefits through the union’s services, KIPP leaders have told me.
But the union has courted a more formal relationship in recent months, according to a press release sent out this morning by KIPP Infinity and Academy teachers. The union tried to begin collective bargaining talks with KIPP Infinity — without consulting with any KIPP Infinity teachers, the release says. The union also filed a grievance against KIPP Academy “without solicitation or support of staff,” the release says.
The teachers say they don’t want to be represented by an outside group such as the union because they worry that “could compromise the strong environment of communication and collaboration that is integral to the success of our schools.”
The statement strongly contradicts the position of teachers at KIPP AMP, who have said that UFT representation would help facilitate more collaboration and communication — and would help them do their jobs better. They have also charged the KIPP charter school network with actively trying to derail their efforts, filing complaints with the Public Employee Relations Board accusing KIPP of waging an intimidation campaign against teachers who want to organize.
KIPP leaders have traditionally touted their freedom from teachers unions as a strength, because it allows them to hire and fire as they please. Whether the KIPP AMP teachers will force the network to step away from that position is up to the state labor relations board, which has to decide whether to grant their request to be represented by the UFT. The board is expected to reach a decision in the next few weeks.
Here’s the full press release:
From the Teachers of KIPP Academy and KIPP: Infinity
On Wednesday, March 18, 2009, the teaching staffs of KIPP Academy Charter School in the Bronx, New York, and KIPP Infinity Charter School in Manhattan, submitted to the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) official petitions for decertification of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) as our certified negotiating representative. These petitions were signed and supported by every staff member at each school.
It is with great consideration that we take this next step in the life of our schools. We, the undersigned teaching staffs of KIPP Academy and KIPP: Infinity, feel the success we have attained to this point in our schools is largely because of the close relationship between all those interested in our students’ well-being, from students to families to school staff. While we have nominally been unionized, the collective bargaining agreement has never been a prominent factor in deciding what is best for our students, our team, and our family. Rather, we solve problems using communication among staff members and working collaboratively with administration to best serve the needs of our students and families. We have found that this method of problem solving has fit our situations well, and we plan to continue following this model of open, positive communication among students, families, and staff in the future.
In recent months, the UFT has made clear its desire to play a more active part in the day-to-day operations of our schools. Two examples illustrate this point. In January, the UFT sent a letter to the KIPP: Infinity Board of Directors with the goal of beginning collective bargaining on teachers’ behalf; the UFT neither consulted nor informed the staff of this request. In addition, a union-initiated grievance has been filed against KIPP Academy without solicitation or support of staff. It is our belief that the active presence of an external negotiating representative could compromise the strong environment of communication and collaboration that is integral to the success of our schools.
We recognize and respect the historical value of labor unions to protect the rights of workers and ensure quality working conditions, and our decision to decertify the union as our negotiating representative is not a reflection of our feelings either toward unions as a whole, or toward the UFT in particular. We also certainly understand the vital role labor unions have played, and continue to play, in supporting the interests of workers and facilitating communication between labor and management.
With that said, we do not believe that one size fits all. We firmly believe that the best way to move forward is to continue with what has made our schools great: parents, staff, and administration working cooperatively to teach character and academics in order to prepare our students for high school, college, and the world beyond. We look forward to continuing to serve the students and families of New York City to the very best of our ability.
KIPP Academy Staff KIPP Infinity Staff