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Charter schools won’t have to pay union wages on construction

Charter schools will not have to pay union wages on construction projects, as New York’s Department of Labor had ordered them to do, a state appeals court ruled today.

The decision follows a tussle in which the state ordered that schools pay their janitors and construction workers union wages, causing an angry uproar among the schools’ leaders, who said the high wages would have been impossible for them to afford and could have jeopardized their ability to expand into new buildings.

The Department of Labor began asking charter schools to pay the union wage in September of 2007, but a group of charter schools in Albany and in the Bronx filed a lawsuit challenging the decision. A state supreme court upheld the decision last May, but the plaintiffs appealed, and this new decision overturns the supreme court’s.

Charter schools are publicly funded, but operate outside the regular Department of Education bureaucracy. The appeals court concluded that the schools are “inapplicable” to the law requiring that certain public entities that hold contracts with workers pay what is known as the “prevailing wage,” or the union wage.

Charter school supporters cheered the decision. “This is a victory for charter schools, which are under tremendous financial pressure to meet increasing expenses with less funding,” Bill Phillips, the president of the New York Charter Schools Association and a co-plaintiff in the case, said in a statement.