Now we know why unionists were fighting so hard for a federal “card check” law. Organizers can unionize private and public employees, forcing them to pay hundreds in union dues, before they even know anything about it.
That's the situation at the Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School in Orleans, Massachusetts.
Last week news broke that the reputable charter school was the second in Massachusetts to be organized by the American Federation of Teachers.
Various sources indicated that the unionization effort was somewhat less than forthright. Several teachers complained that they were never informed about the process and were never asked to vote on the issue.
"The union effort was coordinated by group of teachers and staff that did not include all employees," one teacher wrote. "In fact, a number of employees were not approached at all and found out, quite by accident, that a union had been formed without our input.
"A full vote of the faculty and staff was never taken and plans to unionize went ahead, anyway."
Unionization without a vote of the staff? That sounds like the nasty little practice of "card check," which allows pro-union employees to gang up on co-workers and pressure them to sign a union membership card. Once 50 percent of them do so, the union is automatically certified.
There are no private ballots involved in the process. Those who refuse to sign are exposed to all the pressure and intimidation that the union can muster. Under those conditions, it probably doesn't take very long to gain 50 percent approval.
Our research confirmed that Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill in 2007 making "card check" union organizing legal for charter schools.
So now an outstanding charter school has been transformed into a den of collective bargaining through a back-door coup. The longtime director of the school reacted by resigning and transferring her own children to a different school. Parents of other students began to wonder if they should do the same.
We have to wonder if this would have happened if the school staff had been allowed to privately vote on certification, without union supporters looking over their shoulders. We will never know.
We also have to wonder if the infiltration of Lighthouse will spell eventual doom for the small K-8 school. That is, after all, the stated goal of the AFT.
Infiltrate and destroy
Charter schools have always been perceived as a mortal threat by teachers unions.
That's because they offer an attractive non-union alternative to traditional public schools. Without expensive collective bargaining agreements, seniority rules and constant tension between teachers and administrators, charters have the flexibility and means to be innovative with their programs.
That type of innovation has allowed many charter schools to flourish academically, which makes them popular with the public. As more children enroll in charter schools, less state money flows to traditional schools and their unions.
Money is the alpha and the omega for teachers unions. The well-being of students is not a consideration.
In the beginning the unions reacted by fighting the establishment of charter schools. When that didn't work, they started pressing state governments to cap the number of charter schools.
Now that isn't working, either, so the unions have changed their strategy. Their current goal is to infiltrate charter schools, organize their teachers and change the very nature of the schools. With charters having to face the type of pressures and costs created by unions, the theory is that they will stop being special, and stop attracting parents and students.
Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, summed up the union strategy in a recent newsletter:
"Organizing charters will strengthen our power and influence as a union. It is reasonable to believe that as more charters are faced with having to be more like traditional public schools in terms of accountability, wages and benefits, due process, and paying into the retirement system, many of them will dry up because now they will not be as profitable, thus not as appealing to those seeking to authorize them."
The union infiltration effort has been spotty around the nation so far. But it's clearly gaining steam.
In Chicago, a union consortium that includes the AFT has managed to organize 12 of the 85 charters in the city, and hopes to unionize them all.
The Chicago City Council is even considering a resolution encouraging unionization of charter schools.
According to a New York Times article regarding the Chicago situation, “(Charter school) administrators and operators are battling back, arguing that unionization could undermine the basic premise of the charter school model: that they are more effective because they are free of the regulations and bureaucracies that govern traditional public schools.”
Don't let it happen in your school
In Cape Cod, one local news service is clearly worried that the union will destroy a very good school.
“Since 1995, Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School has been a jewel in the crown of Cape Cod public education,” wrote CapeCodToday.com in an editorial published last week. “The school has a reputation for innovative teaching styles, school-wide projects and individualized instruction.
"The school turns out successful, enthusiastic learners who bring an impressive skill set and love of learning to whichever high school they attend upon graduation from Grade 8.
“All that came to an end when it was announced that the teachers had arranged union representation by the American Federation of Teachers. Surprise turned to concern and then to outrage as Cape Codders first expressed doubts about the school’s ability to maintain its unique culture under the thumb of a labor union and then learned of a possible schism among the faculty over the way AFT was brought into the school."
Gary Beckner, executive director of the Association of American Educators, summed up the situation in an editorial written for CapeCodToday.com.
"Sadly, with the union's lengthy contracts, contributions to partisan politics, and their ability to create an adversary relationship between faculty and staff, there seems to be no faster way of stifling the progressive environments of charters than to unionize.
"Teachers and administrators need to be mindful that the union will come knocking, especially in times of transition, and inevitably undo the innovative culture of their beloved charter school. Don't let it happen in your school."
Beckner suggested that his organization is a solid alternative for any group of teachers that desires a degree of unity, without all the bombast and complications of full unionization.
“What teachers should know is that they have a non-union option in the Association of American Educators, the country’s premier national alternative,” Beckner wrote. "AAE supports teachers, both in charter and traditional public schools in all 50 states, providing professional benefits like liability insurance and legal counsel at a fraction of the cost.
“The non-union option provides a modern approach to teachers without the stifling contracts or partisan politics associated with the union.”