Charter Teachers Unionize at ACLC and Nea

The recent action by ACLC and Nea represents the edge of a movement gaining statewide ground as more and more teachers seek representation.


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Carrie Blanche helped organize ACLC and Nea teachers to form their own local.

Photo by Chris Duffey

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For many, charter schools offer an alternative to traditional education. But when those schools go independent—as the Alameda Community Learning Center did at the behest of the Alameda Unified School District in 2009—the change can lead to challenges. Today, both ACLC and the Nea Community Learning Center, which opened in 2009, know such challenges well.

As independent public charter schools operating within the AUSD, both ACLC and Nea, which currently share a campus at 1900 Third St., have their own management organization and board of directors. They also provide their own back office and special education services apart from those of the AUSD.

“Independence” also impacted ACLC and Nea teachers and staff: They no longer were AUSD employees. Rather, they worked for Community Learning Centers, Inc., the management organization for both schools. That meant eventually the teachers and staff would no longer have the same job protections that AUSD teachers enjoyed.

In response, the teachers and staff of both Nea and ACLC decided to organize. Unlike teachers serving Alameda’s traditional public schools who have union representation through the Alameda Education Association, the teachers and staff of Nea and ACLC formed their own local, Nea ACLC United, a chapter affiliated with the California Teachers Association and the National Education Association.

“There was a decline,” said ACLC special education director and art resource specialist Carrie Blanche, a member of the organizing committee. “Originally, our schools were equal parts teacher voice, student voice, and parent voice. When it became an independent charter, we saw our volume turned down. Our working conditions declined, our salary schedule was abolished, and our work year and our workday were increased with no increase in compensation. We saw our class sizes steadily growing as well as our course loads steadily increasing.”

For some of the teachers, the decline was gradual. Those already at ACLC before it became independent—such as Blanche, now in her 14th year at the school—maintained the benefit of a five-year contract that expired this year. School administration could only fire teachers in such cases for cause. Teachers hired later were not covered under that contract and already worked as at-will employees.

As such, employment status has become a key issue for Nea ACLC United members, who have seen newer colleagues at both schools summarily fired over the past five years.

“[We are] at-will employees versus employees that have due-process rights,” Blanche said. “[Regular public school] teachers around California have [due-process rights], but we do not.”

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