Last December, when we checked in with Chavez Prep PCS, teachers were marching on the street during their lunch period instead of working on lesson plans or providing additional help to scholars to demonstrate their contention that the school was making decisions without negotiating with them first. Now word has seeped out from the charter that the American Federation of Teachers is ecstatic that the National Labor Relations Board has decided to hear two complaints from its members at the school. When I wrote previously that bringing in a union to a charter school was a terrible idea because it places a third party between the staff and management, this was exactly the situation I was warning about.
Below is a statement from Emily Silberstein, CEO of Chavez Schools:
In response to complaints filed by the American Federation of Teachers, the National Labor Relations Board’s regional office that covers the District of Columbia has issued two complaints against Chavez Prep Middle School, where contract negotiations have been underway since Prep faculty voted in 2017 to unionize.
We are disappointed that the AFT is diverting attention and resources toward complaints over minor points that have no meaningful impact on our faculty and staff or on our scholars. The National Labor Relations Board has not validated the union’s complaints. A hearing has been scheduled for July.
The AFT’s complaint about last year’s updates to the Chavez Schools employee handbook relates to immaterial clarifications, updates to existing provisions and standard policies for any workplace. Changes to the handbook were in motion long before Chavez Prep’s staff voted to unionize in June 2017. These updates include an expanded definition of harassment to better protect staff, accommodations for nursing mothers, and permission to wear jeans at work. Literally making a federal case out of routine and positive handbook updates is unproductive and contrary to the spirit of collegial negotiations.
The union’s second complaint is about adjustments made to some Prep teachers’ schedules when lower-than-expected enrollment prevented us from filling two vacant positions. These mid-year modifications did not result in any staff member having to work more hours or give up personal time during the school day. Standard planning time was preserved. We chose this solution because it was the least disruptive option for Prep staff and scholars, and the union presented no viable alternatives during bargaining sessions on the topic.
Since last summer, a team of Chavez Schools administrators and representatives has met regularly with the union’s representatives to negotiate an employment contract for Chavez Prep. Labor and management have come to tentative agreements on nine issue areas, including a policy of non-discrimination and the formation of an employee committee to advise on school discipline policies and campus culture.
We have a dedicated team of teachers and staff at Chavez Prep, and we try to recognize their work with a competitive package of compensation and benefits. The average teacher salary at Chavez Prep is $65,000, on par with DC’s other charter schools. Employees receive generous and flexible paid leave, above-average retirement benefits compared to most workplaces, and their health insurance costs employees as little as $10 per paycheck.
Complaining to the NLRB during first-time bargaining is a common tactic in the AFT’s playbook as the union seeks to expand its membership in charter schools. Resolving complaints expends resources for both union members and management, diverting funds from students’ needs. While Chavez prepares for an NLRB hearing before an administrative law judge, our leadership team will continue to bargain on issues that the union has raised. Preserving the flexibility we have as a public charter school to meet the needs of our scholars and their families is our first priority.
Cesar Chavez PCS has a lot going on right now regarding concerns over its academic program as expressed by the DC Public Charter School Board at the institution’s 20-year review. Fighting with a union over nonsense is the last thing it needs right now. Please allow me to offer a suggestion. I think that the criteria for the board closing a school should be expanded from taking this action for poor academic results, financial irregularities, and a material violation of the law or its charter, to include having union representation.