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Teachers Hit the Picket Line at First Charter School to Unionize in D.C.

A growing number of charter school teachers have begun to start seeing unionizing as an option, as we've written.

Among the most recent charters to organize is Chavez Prep Middle School in Washington, part of the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School network. Teachers there voted in June to form a collective-bargaining unit affiliated with the 1.6-million-member American Federation of Teachers.

And now those teachers are saying the charter school's administration isn't negotiating with them as is legally required.

"By law after our vote, any changes to our working conditions have to be negotiated with us," said Christian Herr, a science teacher who headed the organizing effort. "Our board continues to make significant changes—adding job duties without additional compensation, things like that—without bargaining with us."

About 25 teachers—nearly the whole teaching staff—walked down the street with protest signs during their lunch break on Friday. The union filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board over the summer, but claims the employer continues to make employment decisions without collectively bargaining.

The school's principal, Kourtney Miller disputes all of these charges. "These are entirely their accusations, they haven't been validated by the NLRB, and we disagree with their complaints," she wrote in an email.

The administrators and union have been meeting regularly, both sides say. But the union claims the decisions were made outside those discussions.

"All we're asking for is that they talk to us," said Herr.  "We believe it makes the school better when teachers have a voice in the building."

Charter schools often pride themselves on having close-knit communities, and the dispute illustrates how complicated the relationships can become when single schools organize. After picketing, staff members headed back inside for a chili cookoff and staff meeting, Miller said.

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