For the first time, the United Federation of Teachers is suing one of the charter schools where it helped teachers to unionize. The union filed suit today against Merrick Academy Charter School, alleging that the school had not honored its commitment to increase the salaries of some teachers.
Teachers at Merrick Academy voted to make the United Federation of Teachers their exclusive bargaining agent in 2007—a process that made Merrick the first of several charter schools to unionize through the UFT’s campaign to bring the typically non-union schools under contract. The UFT and the school struggled to reach a contract agreement from day 1, and those struggles came to a head summer of 2010, when 11 teachers at the Queens school learned they’d been fired via a FedEx mailing.
In November 2011 the UFT and Merrick Academy agreed on a contract which included salary increases for the teachers. But after four months salaries have not increased, UFT Vice President for High Schools Leo Casey explained, so the union is suing the school over a breach of contract.
Casey said the teachers have not been given back-pay they are owed and are still waiting for their current salaries to be raised. He also said the union is notifying the Public Employee Relations Board about other contractual issues at the school, noting that teachers who represent the union are being punished with disciplinary letters and, in one case, suspension without pay.
“In most places that we organize we’re actually seeing the ability to establish good, working relationships but we are having a problem with some schools,” he said. “We’re not going to just organize a chapter and then walk away from it. [Merrick] organized into a union for a reason, and the law protects their right to do that and to have collective bargaining agreements respected, and we’re going to make sure that that happens.”
Since the union began helping charter schools unionize, 15 schools have formed unions—most recently the French American Charter School in Harlem.