Teachers at Cesar Chavez PCS misinterpret contribution of school’s namesake

While I was away studying public schools in Paris, WAMU’s Mikaela Lefrak broke the news that the teachers at Cesar Chavez Public Charter middle school’s Prep campus are preparing to vote at the end of this month on their desire to join a union.  The plan appears to be a repeat of the failed effort at Paul PCS earlier this year to form the District of Columbia Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, which would be affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.  In the case of Paul, the AFT called off the ballot after it was clear the measure would go down in defeat.  Let’s hope the same thing happens at Chavez.

Ms. Lefrak includes in her article the rationale for the move to unionize at the charter:

“’We’re a school named after Cesar Chavez, famous for unionizing migrant workers,’ said school librarian Jennie Tomlinson. ‘We just want teachers to have a say in decision-making.’”

What Ms. Tomlinson does not understand is that once a union is brought into Chavez, teachers will have less say at the school than they currently do since every major decision will have to be negotiated with management through a collective bargaining agreement.  Gone will be the day staff can walk into the principal’s office with an idea that can be tried on the spot.

I also have to say that the analogy to the lifework of Cesar Chavez is simply false.  A recent article by WAMU’s Maureen Pao about the contributions of Mr. Chavez recalls:

“Born into a Mexican-American family of migrant farm laborers and a life of grinding poverty, Chavez dedicated his life’s work to improving conditions for the legions of farmworkers who kept fresh food on the tables across America — while they often went hungry, living and laboring in abysmal conditions and being paid unlivable wages.”

I highly doubt similar circumstances exist for the educational professionals at Chavez.

At this point, according to Ms. Lefrak, about 28 of the charter’s 35 teachers plan to cast ballots to approve the union.  I wonder what Irasema Salcido, the founder of Chavez, who grew up on a farm tilled by migrant workers, thinks about the organizing effort.  I really wish Scott Pearson, the executive director at the DC Public Charter School Board, had never suggested that a unionized charter come to our city.


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