COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Teachers and staff at a Columbus charter school are a big step closer to holding a union vote.
The effort to organize at KIPP Columbus has been going on for most of the school year, beginning in November, when more than 70% of the school’s workers signed cards saying they’d like to hold a union vote.
That vote was delayed after the KIPP’s administration challenged it, saying the employees were not eligible to organize under the National Labor Relations Board, which regulates unions in the private sector. (The State Employment Relations Board regulates public-sector worker unions in Ohio.)
On Monday, the NLRB rejected KIPP’s challenge, clearing the way for employees to decide whether they’d like to join the Ohio Federation of Teachers.
Jenean Stokes is a social worker at the elementary school on KIPP’s sprawling K-12 campus in east Columbus. She is part of the organizing committee.
“It feels like administration makes a lot of decisions that we don’t get to even understand and be a part of, that affects us directly,” Stokes said. “This is not at all anything to bash KIPP in any way. I love working at KIPP, but I know this decision is going to make us a happier KIPP.”
In its challenge to the NLRB, KIPP argued that its staff should not be eligible to organize under the agency’s jurisdiction because the school is a public-sector employer. Charter schools like KIPP are considered public schools under Ohio law and are largely funded by state revenue.
Monday’s NLRB ruling held that KIPP must be treated as a private employer in the context of unionization because it was not created by the government. Nor is KIPP’s leadership beholden to voters or public officials, the ruling explained. Following the decision, OFT and KIPP must agree on a date to hold a union vote.
“We would like KIPP to receive this decision, accept it for as it is, and we would like them to stop their intimidation and propaganda tactics that they’ve been having,” Stokes said. “We just really want them to make a pledge to abide by the results of the election, so we can move forward as team and family like we pledge every day at KIPP.”
KIPP has denied allegations of union-busting activity, which NBC4 reported on in February.
In a statement, a New York public relations firm representing the school wrote, “We are proud of our innovative learning environment that empowers our teachers and ensures that all students receive the opportunities that are typically only available in school districts with greater resources. We respect our colleagues’ rights to join the OFT and equally respect the right to not join — both of these are protected through a fair election, which we support. Together with our valued teachers and staff our focus remains on our collective work in educating our students.”
The firm did not respond to a follow-up question asking whether KIPP would appeal the NLRB’s decision.