Teachers, staff at KIPP St. Louis charter school vote to unionize

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TEACHERS AND STAFF at KIPP St. Louis High School voted Nov. 8 to unionize with American Federation of Teachers Local 420. – AFT St. Louis Local 420 photo

By TIM ROWDEN
Managing Editor

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.

“I’m encouraged that educators are willing to stop suffering in silence,” said Local 420 President Ray Cummings. “Educators at the charter schools, they love their schools and they just want to be able to be listened to and have their problems addressed. That’s what we do as a union, we help the people that do the work participate in the process.”

SALARIES
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.

With an average salary of $43,260 in 2021, KIPP teachers were among the 10 lowest-paying school districts or charters in the St. Louis region. The average teacher salary at St. Louis Public Schools was $48,380.

SAFETY
Local 420 spokesman Byron Clemens said teachers and staff at KIPP St. Louis High School saw the gains the union had made for St. Louis Public Schools teachers and staff in their last contract and also expressed concern over safety issues at KIPP.

RANDI WEINGARTEN, national president of the American Federation of Teachers, holds a sign in support of the teachers and staff organizing at KIPP St. Louis High School. – AFT photo

Prior to the Oct. 24 shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School that killed a teacher and a 15-year-old student, KIPP had three incidents occur this fall in which students brought guns to the school at 706 North Jefferson Avenue in the Downtown West neighborhood.

KIPP canceled classes the week of Oct. 10 and remained closed for two weeks following the third incident.

“Without having metal detectors or bag inspections, they felt it wasn’t safe for them or the students,” Clemens said.

“Ultimately, teachers and staff at KIPP want to have a voice in the workplace, what most people want,” he said.

Local 420 organizer Ben Harman said administrators at KIPP fought the organizing effort, hiring Labor-busting consultants ahead of the union vote.

“They (management) didn’t do anything negative for a while, then they jumped on it and were really anti-union toward the end of the process,” he said. “Our folks were inoculated, but I think they were surprised when it happened.”

Clemens said the next step is negotiating a first contract.

“We are looking forward to negotiating a first contract and working with the administration to figure out how we can move forward together,” he said.


 

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