Unusual outcome for Fahari's unionizing teachers: Recognition

Teachers and staff members of Fahari Academy Charter School officially belong to the United Federation of Teachers now.

In October, the staff of the two-year-old middle school, which has posted lackluster test scores and struggled to retain teachers, voted to join the union. But before they could become card-carrying members, either the school’s board or a state labor relations committee had to sign off on the arrangement.

This week, the school’s board gave the union effort the go-ahead, hashing out a brief agreement with the UFT that endorses the union as teachers’ sole bargaining agent. The outcome wasn’t unexpected: When the staff voted to unionize, members of the school’s board signaled that they were open to discussing the teachers’ desire to organize.

Today, the board’s director, Dirk Tillotson, told me that the board saw that the teachers had met the requirements for unionization and that the most prudent path forward included recognition. Tillotson is a lawyer who runs a charter school incubation program for the state’s charter schools association.

“We could have dragged it out in the way that many of these other campaigns had been dragged out,” Tillotson said. “We’d rather to move past the fight about unionization and make it about student achievement. … Looking at student progress on the report card, we didn’t do well. I don’t think anyone can be happy if we have another year like that.”

Tillotson was referring to several other schools where teachers have voted to unionize in recent years and management hasn’t been so accommodating. This summer, the Public Employees Relations Board stepped in to certify the union at Opportunity Charter School when school officials would not. Unionized teachers at Merrick Academy Charter School clashed with the school’s management over pay, and the management at KIPP AMP Charter School failed to recognize the union months after teachers there voted to unionize. Ultimately, KIPP AMP teachers reversed their unionization bid.

Tillotson said Fahari would look not to those schools as a model but to others, such as Green Dot Charter School, that have taken a more proactive approach to labor relations.

“Ideally it will be a successful experiment in a unionized charter school,” he said “I do think deep down for charters to have a real impact we have to learn to work with unions better.”