St. Louis – In a groundbreaking union vote, the teachers at the Grand Center Arts Academy, a charter school that opened in 2010 and serves middle and high school students, voted overwhelmingly to join the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 420.
Of the school’s 64 educators, 54 voted for the union; five were opposed. The secret ballot election was conducted by the League of Women Voters.
When the vote is certified, the group will become a chapter of St. Louis Teachers Local 420, alongside the union’s four other chapters: Teachers, Paraprofessionals, Secretary-Clerical and Retirees. Each chapter has its own leadership group and a representative on Local 420’s executive board.
There is one final step before the election is finalized: On Dec. 17, the school’s governing board must certify the election results.
It’s the second charter school in St. Louis to become unionized. The first, the Construction Careers Center, closed this past Spring. There are three-dozen charter schools in the City.
The Arts Academy is one of five schools that are a part of the Confluence Charter Schools group. It learned of the organizing campaign in September when a large majority of school employees signed AFT authorization cards.
And while the Confluence group issued a statement that it would cooperate with their teachers and the union on the process necessary for the teachers to decide whether or not they would unionize, it conducted a last-minute typical anti-union campaign to hoodwink teachers into believing that the union could not help them.
PARENTS SUPPORT UNION EFFORT
However, positive momentum developed quickly as parents, learning of the organizing effort, voiced their support. Obviously the anti-union campaign was a total failure based on the 93 percent victory for the union.
"I was very pleased to hear that the teachers voted to unionize,” said Mindy Carney, one of the academy’s founding parents.” Her child will graduate this year.
“These teachers are, by far, the school's biggest assets. I'm glad the teachers will be protected so that they can focus on what they do best – teaching our children," Carney stressed.
After the vote count, teachers were exuberant.
“This overwhelming victory signifies that the voice of teachers and staff who desire and deserve the best of both worlds has been heard: the protection and security of a union and the creativity and flexibility of a charter, so that we can best serve our students’ unique needs without worrying about unpredictable working conditions,” said Jess Dewes, a photography teacher and one of the educators leading the union drive.
“I’m really looking forward to more transparency between the Resource Office and our amazing school. It’s great to know that my voice really will be heard,” added Matt Naes, chair of the Mathematics Department.
EXCITING FOR EDUCATION
“This is very exciting for quality education, regardless of whether it’s a charter school or a public school,” said Teachers Local 420 President Mary Armstrong.
“The children deserve to have professional teachers who in turn deserve the right to have professional salaries and resources to do their jobs in providing the children with the best possible education.”
Both Local 420 and the American Federation of Teachers provided support to the very strong local organizing committee formed within the Arts Academy.