Union accuses Chicago Math Science Academy (CMSA) charter school of firing teacher for union organizing
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) group (Chicago ACTS, for Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff) that is organizing Chicago charter schools issued a press release on August 4, 2010, charging that the administration of the "Chicago Math Science Academy" charter school has fired a teacher for union organizing. The controversial CMSA, which had its charter extended recently and which re-located its site, is one of Chicago's smaller charter schools. The press release distributed by the union follows:
Charter School Fires Teacher Active in Union Organizing. Chicago Math and Science Academy Also Challenges Teachers’ Union Rights
For Immediate Release, August 4, 2010, Contact: Dave Comerford, 217/836-3854, dcomerford @ift-aft.org. Cynthia Leonor Garza, 202/879-4447, firstname.lastname@example.org
CHICAGO—The Chicago Math and Science Academy (CMSA), a public charter school, fired a highly regarded pregnant teacher who helped organize a union at the school in June. The firing occurred as the school also challenged its teachers’ right to form a union.
The teacher, Rhonda Hartwell, was eight months pregnant at the time of her firing and was forced to move up her scheduled delivery to ensure it occurred before her health insurance was cut off.
“It’s one thing for the school to fight the union’s legitimacy, but it’s quite another to retaliate against a union organizer who has been rewarded with performance bonuses and was pregnant. This is about as low as an anti-union administration can go,” said Kim Bobo, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice.
Hartwell had just received a $1,500 performance bonus, and the school had renewed her contract in April, inviting her to come back to teach this fall. Attorneys for the union filed an unfair labor practice charge against the employer.
Meanwhile, attorneys for the charter school claim its teachers are private employees subject to the National Labor Relations Act. The school has filed a challenge to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board’s jurisdiction over charter schools.
The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act and the Illinois Charter School Act both make clear that charters — like all public schools — come under state jurisdiction. State law also mandates union certification upon a showing of a simple card-check majority.
“We chose to unionize by a pretty convincing majority, and the school should respect that. Instead, it has chosen to deny us our legitimate right, under state law, to form a union,” said Brian Chelmecki, chair of the school’s math department.
Two-thirds of the teaching staff — well over the majority required by law — signed union authorization cards to be represented by the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (Chicago ACTS), an affiliate of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers. Chicago ACTS also represents teachers at eight other charter schools in Chicago.
Teachers and their supporters — which include local community groups, and religious, labor and political leaders — have vowed to fight what they say is a total disregard for the law by school officials.
Rep. Janice Schakowsky, whose district includes Rogers Park, where the school is located, met with CMSA teachers recently. She expressed “deep concerns” about what she heard, and said she hoped school officials would “abide by state law and act in a manner consistent with our democratic values.”
Hartwell said she believes school officials are punishing her for her union activities. “They are using me as a scapegoat to send a chilling message to the rest of the teachers,” Hartwell said. “We formed a union to give teachers a voice in making the school better and to create an environment where teachers would feel secure enough to share ideas and concerns. I am still hopeful that school officials will eventually do the right thing.”
The school cited budget reasons for terminating Hartwell, but she and her colleagues are not buying it. They assert that CMSA is hiring new teachers, and a few days before the union organized, CMSA offered all teachers a 5 percent pay raise.
“When you look at the decisions being made by school leaders, the budget claim just doesn’t add up,” Hartwell said.
In a statement distributed to parents of its 475 students, CMSA denied having fired Rhonda Hartwell for her union work and stated that they were trying to get federal jurisdiction over the union election because their attorneys believe that federal jurisdiction applies.
The matter has already been adjudicated once. When the American Federation of Teachers began organizing Chicago charter schools, the Chicago international Charter Schools made the same argument after Chicago ACTS organized three of its 13 campuses. CICS claimed it should come under federal jurisdiction, as opposed to Illinois law. CICS lost.
Union officials suggest that concerned people contact officials of CMSA which is run by an organization called "Concept Schools":
CEO of Concept Schools: Sedat Duman
VP of Concept Schools: Salim Ucan
Principal of Chicago Math and Science: Ali Yilmaz
Dean of Academics: Chris Austria
Concept Schools Contact Information:
2250 E. Devon Ave. Suite 215
Des Plaines, IL 60018
Chicago Math and Science Academy Contact Information:
7212 N. Clark St
Chicago, IL 60626