Graham Kilmer

Carmen Schools Staff Organizing Union

Organizers cite staff burnout, pay and working conditions as issues at the private, MPS chartered schools.

By - Jan 5th, 2022 05:00 pm
School classroom. Pixabay License. Free for commercial use. No attribution required.

School classroom. (Pixabay License).

The staff at Carmen Schools of Science and Technology are organizing a union.

In a statement released Jan. 5, the staff announced they are organizing with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), which recently successfully organized the workers at the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM).

“Right now, we are gravely concerned that the impact of serious workplace issues impede teachers’ ability to meet the high educational standards that Carmen students deserve,” the nascent union said in a statement on its website. “Collective bargaining through a negotiated contract is the only way to assure that teachers’ concerns regarding workload, equity, pay, and unacceptable turnover rates are addressed.”

Carmen Schools of Science and Technology is a network of private schools chartered by Milwaukee Public Schools. It has five campuses in Milwaukee, which include one elementary school, two middle schools and three high schools. The union, calling itself the Carmen Workers Collective, is seeking to unionize the entire network of nearly 200 teachers and professional staff.

Staff at Carmen began organizing in January 2021. Now organizers are working to get staff to sign authorization cards, which grant a labor organization the right to represent a worker. Owners and management – in this case the administration – are not legally compelled to recognize this authority based solely on a majority of workers signing cards. In the absence of voluntary recognition, a union must petition for an election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The union has already said it will file for an NLRB election once a “strong majority” of staff sign authorization cards.

The workers at Carmen are organizing around four goals: equity, a sustainable workload, transparency and financial fairness.

The new union’s website and the statement announcing their union drive make clear that staff retention is an issue at Carmen schools because of the pay and working conditions. The union said that “financial fairness” will help teachers stay in education; and that a sustainable workload will prevent burnout so that experienced teachers will stay on staff.

The organizers also say a union would allow Carmen staff to “protect and empower underrepresented identities among staff and stand in solidarity with underrepresented members of our student and family communities.” The union would also give the workers at Carmen the power to have more input into decision making at the schools.

“I see so many passionate, dedicated, and excellent Carmen staff come and go,” said Leland Pan, a teacher at the Carmen High School South Campus, in the union’s public announcement. Pan said that comparing the pay, benefits and work hours for Carmen teachers compared to MPS schools and other charters leads to a clear conclusion: “our school network is contributing to a race to the bottom for employee conditions rather than the reverse.”

Another teacher, Angela Berwick, was quoted saying “We are organizing for the sake of our students… When we have what we need to do our jobs, our students will have what they need to learn.”

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Categories: Business, Weekly

3 thoughts on “Carmen Schools Staff Organizing Union”

  1. says:

    This is long overdue. I’ve had many friends who worked at private charter schools and many found out that the glossy promises made at the front end of their employment were never fulfilled. All educational workers deserve a living wage, adequate benefits, including paid leave, health insurance, and pensions, and job security. History teaches us that only unionized entities provide these. These private charters subsist on public money; their employees deserve compensation comparable to public school educators. The spread of private charter “mini-districts” like Carmen and Seeds of Health has been a net negative for educational professionals.

  2. Gordon Skare says:

    Wouldn’t the MTEA be the better choice if they represent the other MPS district schools?

  3. sbaldwin001 says:

    Here’s a warning: If Carmen teachers step too far away from their status as professionals and insist on 40 hour work weeks, then it will be fair for school administrators to insist they are only paid for 9 months of the year. Have a place at the table, but be reasonable and be prepared to compromise.

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