KIPP High School teachers win 5 percent raise, place at the bargaining table

KIPP TEACHERS Nate Gibson and Leonette White thanked Labor for its support in their fight for recognition and fair wages at the May 16 meeting of St. Louis Labor Council delegates. – Labor Tribune photo

Last year, in a first for St. Louis charter schools, teachers and staff at KIPP St. Louis High School voted by an overwhelming majority – 67 percent – to organize with American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 420 and collectively bargain. Two-thirds of the faculty of about 40 members voted to join Local 420, which also represents teachers in St. Louis Public Schools.

Earlier this year, when KIPP sent out its offer letter for teachers for the next school year, the school offered two percent raises for unionized teachers and five percent for non-unionized teachers. The obvious union-busting ploy didn’t work.

Teachers organized, and with the support of the Greater St. Louis Labor community, prepared to launch an informational picket. They didn’t have to, because KIPP came around and offered five percent raises for everyone.

Organizing committee members Nate Gibson, a history teacher at KIPP, Leonette White, a member of the social studies department, discussed their victory at the May 16 delegates meeting, the same night the informational picket had been set to start.

“We got out there at the beginning of the (school) year to work up support for better conditions and a good contract and won our election by a good margin. As we came toward the end of this (school) year we noticed that our offer letters weren’t coming in with the numbers that we wanted,” Gibson said.

“They weren’t coming in with any sort of fairness with respect to unionized vs. non-unionized employees. So we organized again. The staff showed tremendous heart, and we were able, with the support of the Labor community, to get KIPP to treat us fairly and see the error of their ways.”

White said KIPP’s unionized teachers are now looking for ways they can help other unions and organizations with the same level of support.

“It was really heartening to know we were not alone,” White said. “Sometimes working against a corporate structure like KIPP makes you just feel like that you’re the only ones for what you’re asking and can make you feel crazy sometimes. So you guys helping us, agreeing to show up and show out with us really helped.”

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