Please, act as though everything is normal.
Public schools in America are widely unionized. “Charter” schools are not. One ideological pillar of the charter school movement, in fact, is the belief that teachers’ unions are bad. This belief that teachers are incredibly valuable professionals whose work helps give charter schools their alleged edge and that, when they come together collectively, they become Evil can lead to some bizarre rationalizations. Particularly when the charter school in question is named for Cesar Chavez.
Cesar Chavez Prep is a Washington, DC middle school, one of four city schools run by Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools. (It seems weird that they didn’t unionize from day one, just for branding purposes. Anyhow.) Just last week, more than 80% of the three dozen teachers at Cesar Chavez Prep signed union cards and filed a petition to hold a union election, asking to be represented by the American Federation of Teachers. If successful, they will form the first public charter school union in DC.
So, we have A) a school named for a famous union leader in which B) a huge majority of teachers have publicly requested to form a union. The response from the school’s leadership? Do you even have to guess?
Yesterday, a letter from the school’s principal and assistant principal went out to all teachers and staff. They were informed that there will be an “important meeting” today at 3:30 to discuss the union election, because “we are now placed in an accelerated process that has huge implications on [sic] how we function as a school and a system.” It continues:
This sort of rhetoric is designed to instill in employees a sense of doubt, fear, and second-guessing. The school’s mandatory staff meeting today, along with the “series of events and meetings” referenced in the letter, are known as “captive audience” meetings, in which employers mandate that their employees sit and listen to lectures about why a union would be bad. All of this is standard-issue stuff from the anti-union playbook. The farmworkers that Cesar Chavez was leading certainly heard all these same sorts of things, though perhaps delivered in a less professional manner.
Cesar Chavez Prep’s principal and assistant principal have not responded to a request for comment. But Claudia Andrade, an English Language Arts teacher at the school, told us, “Given that our namesake is Cesar Chavez, we expected the Cesar Chavez PCS board would have been more receptive towards our efforts to unionize. Instead, they decided to push back by hiring a law firm and holding a mandatory meeting today. This meeting will take away valuable time that teachers could be spending with scholars in the classroom improving grades.” And Christian Herr, a science teacher, said “Despite our namesake, we never really expected our board to come to the table with us without a fight... Everyone I’ve talked to today has said something along the lines of ‘bring it on.’ We’re ready, and we’ll win.”
Hey assholes, you named your school for Cesar fucking Chavez. Suck it up!