A Chicago First: Charter School Teachers Unionize

June 18, 2009

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Chicago has its first unionized charter school. 

In an election held yesterday, about 60 percent of teachers at three campuses of the Chicago International Charter School voted to bring in a union. Jean Goldrich teaches English and writing at Northtown Academy on the northwest side.

GOLDRICH: I am thrilled. It's been a really tough, challenging year, and I can't wait for negotiations to start.

Teachers say their workload and class sizes increased this year. They say teacher turnover at the schools has also been a problem—one they hope a union contract can fix.

One of the hallmarks of charter schools has been their freedom to operate outside of such contracts. Simon Hess runs the three campuses. He says he's disappointed by the vote.

HESS: The autonomies that have been granted to charter schools have enabled some of the most innovative schools that we've got.

A bill awaiting the governor's signature would make it easier for charter teachers to unionize. Under that legislation, a school would be unionized if a majority of teachers signed union cards.