Photos by Scott Buschman
“All we want is a voice,” says Adalinda Avila, a math teacher at the Alliance Ouchi-O’Donovan 6-12 Complex, a charter school in Los Angeles.
Educators at Alliance College-Ready Public Schools want a voice in decision-making, and the ability to negotiate working conditions and what’s best for students without fear of reprisals. They want to help stop the 20 to 30 percent annual turnover of staff and be treated fairly and with respect.
To make this happen, they are organizing to become new members of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), joining growing numbers of charter school educators who see strength in numbers. Presently, there are more than 49 independent unionized schools in Los Angeles including Green Dot schools, Camino Nuevo, Los Angeles Academy, Granada Hills Charter High, Palisades Charter High, El Camino Charter High, Pacoima Charter Elementary, Montague Charter Elementary, Birmingham Charter High, Ivy Academia, Global elementary and middle schools, Accelerated Schools, and Ocean Charter.
Alliance is the largest operator of charter schools in Los Angeles, with 12,500 students in 28 schools. An organizing effort launched by teachers in 2015 has been met with heavy employer resistance, including surveillance, discrimination, and blocking access to union activity. Alliance’s behavior has been so extreme that the Public Employment Relations Board, which protects the legal right to unionize, obtained a court injunction prohibiting Alliance administrators from interfering with teachers’ unionizing efforts.
In April, a state audit found that Alliance raised a $1.7 million war chest from private donors to fight its own teachers and counselors, and had already spent nearly $1 million on its anti-union campaign plus $2.2 million in legal fees (excluding costs for this year). The audit also found that Alliance failed to comply with federal law on sharing parent and student information; Alliance had turned over alumni information to California Charter Schools Association to enlist parents against teachers’ efforts to organize.
Teachers and parents at Alliance have denounced the actions by the charter’s board and management, saying money should be spent on students, not on fighting teachers.
Pro-union teachers are standing strong for social and economic justice as well, including advocating for safe schools to ensure immigrant student rights.
“Unionization is not just about our school district or our profession,” says Dan White, who teaches 10th-grade environmental science at Ouchi-O’Donovan. “The gap between economic classes is widening in America, and unions help bridge that gap and preserve the middle class.”
Follow the links below to see the other parts of this feature story.
Let’s Be Clear About Charter Schools
Helix Charter: Transparency Keeps Things Real
K12: Not Making the Grade
Alliance: Organizing to Have a Say
Rocketship: Failing Their Students, Educators
Livermore: A Cautionary Tale
Celerity: The Opposite of Austerity
Follow the Money
Advocating for Transparency, Accountability and Equal Access