The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Teachers at D.C. charter school launch campaign to unionize

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten in Los Angeles in 2014. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Teachers at a D.C. charter school are pushing to unionize, citing a desire to provide more resources to students and a need to stabilize the teaching force.

About 80 percent of the 35 teachers, librarians and social workers at Cesar Chavez Public Charter School at Chavez Prep Middle School in Northwest signed a petition to ask the school’s administration to recognize their union, the D.C. Alliance for Charter School Teachers and Staff at Chavez Prep.

If recognized, the middle school would have the first teachers union at a D.C. charter school, after an effort to unionize at a different charter school failed earlier this year.

Mateo Samper, an eighth-grade English and language-arts teacher, said the effort to unionize is not “an indictment” of the school’s staff.

“We have banded together in order to serve our students better,” Samper said in a statement. “This union is not about my colleagues, the staff or the administrator. It’s bigger than the sum of its parts.”

Most charter schools do not have a union, because advocates say that allows them to experiment with teacher pay and work schedules, such as having a longer school year. But some charters are unionizing. The American Federation of Teachers said it represents 231 charter schools in 15 states.

School officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday. Chavez Prep has 306 students enrolled this year, according to city data. It is part of the Cesar Chavez Public School charter network, which enrolls about 1,200 students citywide.

AFT President Randi Weingarten said educators at the charter school want to partner with their administrator to shape the education of its students.

“Their school is named for the great labor leader who understood that the way to ensure opportunity is through joining together, which the staff is doing to secure resources and protections,” Weingarten said in a statement.

Efforts to create a union at a charter school in D.C. have not been successful. Earlier this year, Paul Public Charter School teachers petitioned to create a union but withdrew their request because few teachers were willing to publicly cast a vote in favor of the union.

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