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Charter School Teachers Hit With Yet Another Setback in Effort to Unionize

By Benjamin Woodard | March 15, 2013 8:05am

ROGERS PARK — Teachers at a charter school hit yet another setback in their years-long effort to form a union when a vote on whether to organize was canceled "against our wishes" by their representing organization, teachers said.

Teachers from the Chicago Math and Science Academy thought they'd finally vote on forming a union after classes Thursday.

But fewer than 24 hours before the election, the National Labor Relations Board pulled the plug.

"The teachers that led the effort are just in shock — just feel a little drained of energy and want some time to recharge," said Patrick Mazza, who has worked to establish a union at the school since 2010.

Now the teachers feel slighted and aren't sure where to turn.

The organization that represented them since 2010, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, withdrew the petition requesting the election, forcing the board to halt the vote.

"This decision was made against our wishes," Mazza said. "The teachers that led the effort to have an election wanted this election."

Mazza said the decision to cancel the election appeared to be because the federation thought the teachers didn't have enough support to win.

Yet teachers wanted a conclusion — win or lose — to the nearly three-year battle that included a labor board ruling in December that dissolved their previously recognized union, he said.

"At this time, we have canceled the scheduled election for union representation at CMSA," federation spokesman David Comerford said in an emailed statement. "Many things have changed since this campaign began and the timing is not right to hold an election today.

"We believe strongly in the CMSA teachers' right to union organization and will continue working with them," he added.

Tom Stonis, a social studies teacher at the school, said teachers and administrators had postponed after-school activities in anticipation of casting ballots.

Then, he said, the news came at "the 11th hour" that the election had been called off, leaving some teachers in tears.

"They felt like they were slapped in the face," Stonis said. "It was very emotional yesterday and today."

Stevens — who like Stonis doesn't necessarily want a union at the academy — said a union would only add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy that would "hinder our ability to provide the best learning environment for our students."

But most teachers wanted an end to the fight.

"Despite what the union teachers at the school wanted, they pulled the election," Stevens said. "Basically they didn’t feel as though they had the numbers to win an election"

Now, nearly three years after teachers first moved to organize, many have moved on to other schools, and it's unclear whether enough support can be garnered to finally form a union.

"I guess it was just too long a process," Stonis said. "People just began to lose interest in it — and the union seemed to have lost interest in it."

"It's another chapter in a really strange book."