Sisulu-Walker teachers win union after PERB ruling

By Rob Callaghan

Sisulu-Walker Charter School of Harlem.

After almost two years of legal challenges by the school’s administration, teachers at Sisulu-Walker have won a decision at the New York Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) that confirms their vote to form a union at the school.

On May 8, PERB sided with the UFT and officially certified the bargaining unit at Sisulu-Walker Charter School of Harlem. With this decision, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) will serve as the exclusive collective bargaining agent for the educators at the school.

The Sisulu-Walker Charter School of Harlem was founded in the fall of 1999, as one of the first three charter schools in New York state. The school was named after Walter Sisulu, a prominent member of African National Congress and Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker, a former adviser to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In October 2010 educators at the school came together to form a union by signing union authorization cards, which were then filed with PERB.

Since the teachers organized a union at the school, educators at the school and the lawyers for the UFT allege that administration at the school has committed a series of blatant violations of the Taylor Law, which grants teachers the right to organize a union. The UFT believes that the school has fired and otherwise discriminated against teachers because of their support for the union. Teachers have been pressured to withdraw their support for the UFT. Hearings over these charges are ongoing.

As a result of learning about these systematic violations of teachers’ rights, the school’s namesake, the Sisulu family in South Africa, wrote a letter to the school’s board on March 31, 2012.

The fight to have a union has been long and difficult but well worth it, according to Kenya Burton a sixth-year resident teacher at the school. “Now that we have been recognized as a union, we look forward to working with administration on issues concerning our students and the school at large. As teachers we provide vital insight into the common goal of helping Sisulu-Walker optimize learning opportunities for students,” she said.

Now that the bargaining unit has been certified, the staff and management will begin the process of negotiating a contract. Teachers at the school said they look forward to working with the school’s administration to create a contract which will solidify their mutual commitment to providing the highest quality education for the students and a professional environment for the staff.

Sisulu-Walker is managed by Victory Schools, a for-profit educational management company based in New York City.