Friday, May 22, 2009

Chicago Nonprofit Argues Charter School Is Private Firm So Federal Government Has Jurisdiction Over Union Certification

Chicago Public Radio reported that there is much debate over whether jurisdiction belongs to the federal or Illinois state government to determine the union certification for three campuses of the new Chicago International Charter School (CICS).

The nonprofit management group, Civitas, asserts that the federal government should have jurisdiction over the union certification and filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board.  A decision is expected this month.  Under federal law, the three charter campuses fighting for union representation would have to hold an election to determine whether teachers want the union. State law does not require an election at the schools, because a majority of teachers have already signed union cards. The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board says it received 91 signed and dated cards; organizers say that’s about 75% of employees at the three campuses.  

The legal fight has forced Civitas to make a prickly argument: Charter schools have worked hard to emphasize they are public schools, funded with public dollars. But in order to fall under the jurisdiction of the NLRB, an entity must be a private firm, and that is what Civitas is arguing. The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board has jurisdiction over public educational employers.  Civitas CEO Simon Hess claims Civitas is essentially a private vendor: "just because you receive public funds doesn’t mean you’re a public entity."

There was a similar case a year ago when teachers at Cambridge Lakes Charter School in Kane County, Illinois formed a union. Their employer, the Northern Kane Educational Corporation, also argued that the NLRB should have jurisdiction in the case, using the same private employer argument. But the state IELRB ruled otherwise. In a decision issued in November 2008, the IELRB determined that Northern Kane should indeed be considered a public employer subject to the State Public Educational Employer Act.  The school’s administration appealed the decision to the appellate court, which is where the case remains.

Started in 2002, Civitas is a LLC whose sole member is CICS.


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