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All Teachers Could Benefit from Unions

David Hecker & Tashaune Harden
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Re: Ashley Jochim's April 25 Detroit News opinion, "Charter schools, the future of teachers unions": There is no doubt Michigan’s public schools are facing problems and it’s widely known that educators, through organizing with their unions, are speaking out to improve learning conditions, have a say in educational administration, and improve working environments. Educators in charter schools rarely get the same attention from the public, but their struggles are just as important.

Roughly 300 charter educators in Michigan are covered by collective bargaining agreements. These numbers are small when compared to public schools — but not because educators do not want to collectively bargain with their district. Many charter authorizers, charter school boards, and the private companies that are hired to operate charter schools have shown that they will do just about anything to keep their staff from organizing unions -- including breaking the law.

There have been documented cases right here in Michigan of educators being illegally fired for voicing concerns to charter boards, union busting strategies that cost thousands of dollars, and charters shuffling management companies to lay off the organized staff members to circumvent collective bargaining.

Educators who want to join together to make their voices heard to make the best school environment possible for themselves and their students deserve better. They deserve our support and attention.

Shady tactics to stifle organizing efforts have also made it so educators are choosing not to work at charter schools for very long. A report from the Michigan Department Education found that charters have a turnover rate of 37% each year, a rate much higher than traditional districts. Educators choosing to leave, in some ways, is the ultimate dissension. It also can destabilize learning environments.

Anyone concerned with school accountability and student learning should be very concerned about this outcome.

David Hecker, president, American Federation of Teachers Michigan

Tashaune Harden, president, Michigan Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, AFT Michigan Vice President

This letter originally appeared in the Detroit News.