Efforts by the United Federation of Teachers to represent teachers at the very first school founded by the KIPP charter school network have landed the union in federal court.
The charter school says the UFT is unlawfully trying to bind KIPP Academy Charter School in the South Bronx to the union’s collective bargaining agreement despite the fact that the UFT doesn’t really represent teachers at the school.
The first KIPP Academy originally operated as a program within P.S. 156 in the Bronx. KIPP cofounder David Levin sought to establish KIPP as a new, “start-up” charter school, but the state granted him what is known as a “conversion” charter. That means, essentially, that New York treated the school as a takeover of P.S. 156, even though P.S. 156 continued to operate after KIPP was established and was not converted into a charter.
One of the big differences between conversion and startup charters is that teachers at conversion charters continue to be represented by the existing union and are subjected to its collective bargaining agreement with the district.
This quirk in KIPP’s original charter has given the UFT an in at the school, with the UFT recently demanding that the school enter arbitration talks over KIPP practices that violate the collective bargaining agreement. In a federal lawsuit, KIPP argues that the union has never provided its teachers genuine representation:
"[O}ther than collecting union dues from KIPP teachers and staff, the UFT never carried out any representative functions in relation to them. The UFT never negotiated on their behalf, it never chose union stewards, and it never objected to any of the myriad actions taken by KIPP Academy over the more than 20 years since establishment of the Knowledge is Power Program that were inconsistent with the provisions of the UFT’s [collective bargaining agreements].”
In the suit, KIPP attributes its success in part to the fact that it operates outside of the collective bargaining agreement, and is thus able to pay teachers bonuses and expect them to work long hours and weekends.
Back in 2009, KIPP Academy teachers attempted to decertify the union, but the UFT blocked the move. KIPP teachers are again trying to break away from the union, this time with the National Labor Relations Board. The KIPP lawsuit comes on the heels of accusations by the UFT of union-busting surrounding the current decertification drive, according to Chalkbeat, the education news website.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.