Teachers and support staff strike at KIPP St. Louis High School

Demand job security, better safety, steps to address teacher turnover

ON STRIKE: Teachers and support staff at KIPP St. Louis High School took to the picket line Friday, April 19, demanding a first contract that includes basic union protections including job protects and a fair grievance procedure. Represented by American Federation of Teachers St. Louis Local 420, teachers and staff have been at the bargaining table for over a year. – Labor Tribune photo


St. Louis – After more than a year of negotiations, teachers and support staff at KIPP St. Louis charter high school went on strike Friday, April 19, to demand a first contract.

Represented by American Federation of Teachers (AFT St. Louis) Local 420, KIPP teachers and support staff were joined by fellow union members, political leaders and candidates, and received enthusiastic honks of support from drivers as they picketed outside the charter high school at 706 N. Jefferson Ave., St. Louis, Mo., 63103.

“We’ve been at the table for over a year without a contract,” said Nate Gibson, an American government teacher at KIPP and member of the negotiating team. “At our last bargaining session the teachers and support staff of KIPP High School put together a list reasonable asks, things we know we need to have a successful school, tools we know we need as educators, and KIPP St. Louis rejected our request saying that giving workers basic rights, basic workplace protections would prevent them from running the kind of school that they want to run.”

UNION SUPPORT: Nate Gibson (left), an American government teacher and member of the AFT St. Louis Local 420 negotiating committee, takes a stand with Teamsters Local 688 organizers Jay Krueger (center) and Mike Marquardt, who turned out to support KIPP High School teachers and support staff in their strike action. – Labor Tribune photo

KIPP, which stands for Knowledge Is Power Program, is a national network of 280 charter schools. KIPP St. Louis also includes three elementary and two middle schools.

Local 420 reached agreement on KIPP’s proposals for salary and benefits but are holding out for clauses related to job protections and grievance procedures. “The most basic union protects,” said Local 420 spokesman Byron Clemens.

Teachers are also calling for improved safety at the school and full staffing. Many of the courses at KIPP, such as math, are presently taught virtually because there is not a teacher at KIPP to provide instruction due to the school’s more than 50 percent turnover rate, with teachers leaving for the better pay and job protections of St. Louis Public Schools and other districts.

Teachers and staff at KIPP are demanding:

  • A fair grievance procedure. “We believe that people should have job security and some process before they are disciplined or let go,” Gibson said. “We’re looking for a way to enforce the contract. Right now one of the places we’ve stalled is on the grievance procedure.”
    The grievance procedure teachers have proposed calls for a neutral third party to arbitrate disputes between the staff and administration.
    “KIPP seems to think the best grievance procedure they can give us in one in which they have final say on whether or not they violated their contract, which seems ridiculous and leaves you as a teacher without many options in the case that your feel that your rights have been violated.” Gibson said.
  • Improved safety. “We’re looking for measures to improve the safety of our school, and to have a voice in that decision making,” Gibson said.
  • Full staffing. Teachers are demanding that KIPP fully staff the school and take the steps necessary to stop the revolving door of teachers who leave the district mid-year or don’t come back after summer break.

“A school that is fully staffed is a school that can establish a culture of safety, a culture of excellence in learning,” Gibson said. “Right now we’re dealing with a level of turnover of over 50 percent per year. Our colleagues with SLPS have, through their organization, been successful in achieving raises and improvements to their working conditions that  make their schools very attractive to teachers. KIPP is lagging behind here and my fear is if this continues, the staffing crisis that we have is going to become even more acute, which will have profound impacts on our students.

“I don’t fault anybody who makes the decision for themselves that they cannot continue. But at the same time, we’ve got to create an environment where we have the tools to do what we need. Right now, we don’t have that environment.”

ADELINE BLOOD, an English as a second language teacher at KIPP, says administrators are showing a lack of respect for teachers and staff by refusing to accept the union’s requests for job protections and a fair grievance procedure. – Labor Tribune photo

Adeline Blood, who teaches English as a second language at KIPP, says after a year of negotiations KIPP has only agreed to the smallest items in the proposed contract but won’t agree to the bigger items, such as job security, flatly denying teachers’ request for a third-party arbitrator to handle grievance procedures. “Big things such as job security and how to handle disagreements is not anything that they want to work with us on,” she said.

“It just is a lack of respect for us as  professionals that they treat us as if we need to be managed that way. It just doesn’t respect our knowledge and keep teachers here to have no security in what we can say and what we can do. It really is frustrating to be trying to work with them and it’s not reciprocated.”

Sarah Dubberke, a business teacher at KIPP, said she was on the picket line for her students.

SARA DUBBERKE, a business teacher at KIPP, said she was on the picket line for her students. “I’m here for the kids,” she said. “They deserve better than what they’re getting here. We are doing them a disservice by having a revolving door of teachers.” – Labor Tribune photo

“I’m here for the kids,” she said. “They deserve better than what they’re getting here. We are doing them a disservice by having a revolving door of teachers. We cannot keep staff here because we cannot come even close to competing with everybody around us. All the people are going when they can. They’re going to better pay and more security. We are not asking for anything unreasonable in our contract.

“We formed a year and half ago and have  just been given the runaround the entire time. We need a contract so we can stop the revolving door of teachers. It’s not fair to the kids that they can’t have a relationship with their high school teachers. It’s not fair, and they deserve better.”

Teachers and staff at KIPP were joined on the picket line by members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655, United Auto Workers Local 2250, Teamsters Local 688, Laborers Local 42, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, National Nurses United, Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 562, Missouri AFL-CIO, United Media Guild, Office and Professional Employee (OPEIU), the National Educators Association, Missouri Jobs With Justice, State Senator Doug Beck (D-1st District), State Representative Doug Clemens (D-St. Ann), St. Louis City Alderman Rasheen Aldridge, attorney general candidate Elad Gross and Marty Joe Murray, candidate for state representative in the 78th District.

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