REALM charter school teachers join union

The teachers at REALM charter school in Berkeley will now be represented by a teachers’ union, joining a growing number of charter school teachers in the state who are unionizing.

The Berkeley Federation of Teachers, which represents approximately 800 faculty members in the city, will represent all 12 teachers, most of whom come from public school backgrounds, from REALM middle and high school — which opened at the beginning of this school year in August.

It is not common for charter schools to be unionized, said David Castillo, principal of Oakland Unity High School, one of the more than 30 charter schools in the Oakland Unified School District.

More than 850 charter schools are scattered all over the state, according to the California Charter School Association’s website. Teachers from approximately 30 schools in the state are represented by the California Federation of Teachers — an affiliate of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers — according to Sandra Weese, organizing director of the state teachers’ union.

“I think more and more charter schools are looking to unionize,” Weese said. “Teachers feel like they’re on the front lines, and they want a voice.”

Vicky Waters, spokesperson for the charter school association, said the reason more charter school teachers are joining unions could be because “as more traditional schools convert to charter schools, the teachers may choose to also retain collective bargaining agreements.”

In contrast to public schools, teachers and faculty at charter schools, including librarians and psychologists, are not automatically entered into a union. They do, however, have the option to apply, as the teachers at REALM did.

“Charter schools have unique needs and unique structures and … in order to carry out that mission the teachers at REALM are probably going to need different things that teachers at other school don’t,” said Cathy Campbell, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers. “Our goal is to have a contract that addresses their unique needs.”

Last week, the Berkeley union informed REALM that their request to join the union had been approved, according to a press release published Monday. The union will represent the school’s teachers in all salary and employee benefit negotiations.

“One of the main ways that teachers exercise their collective voice is through collective bargaining, and that will be one of the first things BFT discusses with the board of directors at the REALM school,” Campbell said.

Now, by working with management, they are going to have a voice in deciding what is best for the school, she said.

“We are thrilled!” said Hillary Walker, a sixth grade Humanities teacher, in the Monday press release. “Based on its history of advocacy, support and collective bargaining, we felt that the BFT could help us negotiate a strong contract, emphasizing democratic participation that would be a model for other charter schools.”

The California Federation of Teachers represents 120,000 professionals from early childhood education all the way to the university level.