Q: What is UFT ACTS?
A: UFT ACTS – the United Federation of Teachers Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff – is a community of charter school employees organized by the UFT, which is a local union chapter of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and represents public school teachers, some private school teachers and other professionals in New York City. The alliance’s goal is to mobilize charter school employees around issues of common concern and address them by working together. We believe forming a union is one of the best ways we can achieve the collaboration and communication that make schools work well and address our issues: providing the best possible education to all children, regardless of background; strengthening our profession; expanding professional development; improving the conditions of teaching and learning; and bolstering our voice in school-level decision-making. As a community of educators, we also share best practices and professional resources, and speak out on public policy issues that affect our jobs.
Q: Why should charter school teachers and staff consider forming unions?
A: For the very same reasons that millions of educators in all types of schools—public, charter and private—have chosen to form unions: so you can speak with a unified voice, and therefore have more power to improve the teaching and working conditions in your schools.
In general, unionized school employees have greater power to advocate for higher pay, better health and retirement benefits, fairer treatment in the workplace and increased job security. They also have more leverage to push for effective professional development opportunities, a bigger say in curriculum decisions, and improvements in school conditions and classroom management.
In many ways, working in a unionized charter school offers the best of both worlds: the protections and rights of a union, and the freedom and flexibility of a charter.
Q: Is it legal for charter school teachers and staff to form unions?
A: Yes. In New York State, the law that governs public-sector labor relations – the Public Employees Fair Employment Act, better known as the Taylor Law – covers charter teachers and staff because charter schools are public schools. The law gives public employees the right to organize and be represented by a union of their choice. It grants public employees protections when they are organizing for union representation. More information on your rights under the law
Q: Are there charter school employees who already have unions and union contracts?
A: Yes. The UFT represents charter teachers in over 20 schools in the city (see the list here). The AFT currently represents teachers and support staff at public charter schools across 13 states. ��The Green Dot Contract serves as a innovative model of a charter school contract. The following is a link to the actual agreement [Green Dot Contract], and its appendices [Appendix A: Salaries;Appendix B: Teacher Evaluations; Appendix C: Staff Evaluations]. For more information on the Green Dot contract click here.
Q: Why is the UFT working to support charter school employees through ACTS?
A: Schools, students and educators all perform better when teachers and school staff receive the professional respect, support and compensation they deserve. As a union of professionals, the UFT has long supported teachers and school employees in their efforts to strengthen their voice on the job, improve their schools, and better their wages, benefits and working conditions. This commitment extends to all educators, regardless of the type of school in which they work.
Q: If my colleagues and I form a union, will that create animosity between school employees and administrators?
A: In charter schools where there is trust and a shared commitment to success, a union can mean more collaboration and teamwork, not less. This is true in many traditional public schools, too, where administrators and unionized school employees frequently work together to solve common problems. Experience has shown that unions and collaboration often go hand in hand, because unions help create the kind of secure work environment that encourages innovation, risk-taking and experimentation.
Q: What is the UFT’s view on charter schools?
A: The UFT has always supported charter schools that embody the core principles of public education and a democratic society: equity, high academic standards, accountability, a commitment to helping all public schools improve, and the right of employees to freely choose union representation. In fact, former UFT and AFT president Albert Shanker was one of the first education leaders to champion the concept of charter schools. Shanker envisioned innovative, teacher-run laboratories of reform that would spur improvements in all public schools. Read more about the UFT and charter schools.
The UFT has, however, raised concerns about the unfettered growth of charter schools that fail to meet basic accountability standards. Some charter school operators exploit their staff, put profit ahead of students’ needs, fail to disclose essential information, and/or consistently produce negative academic outcomes.
We have an obligation to demand accountability from low-performing charter schools, just as we must demand accountability from traditional public schools that consistently underperform. A first step is to make sure that teachers and staff in low-performing schools have a real say in school decision-making, since they are the ones who often know the most about what is needed to put a struggling school back on track.
Q: Does the UFT favor traditional public schools over charter schools?
A: Charter schools are public schools, so it makes little sense to pit one type of school against the other. We know there are excellent charter public schools and excellent traditional public schools. Likewise, there are charter and traditional public schools that fall short of expectations.
Instead of setting up a false competition between charter and traditional public schools, we should be focusing on what we can learn from high-performing schools, be they charter or traditional public. And we should concentrate on how charter and traditional public schools can collaborate to share best practices, so our students benefit from this joint expertise.
The bottom line is that a school’s governance structure does not magically produce better or worse results. Regardless of the type of school, what happens in the school and in the classroom matters most. That includes making sure that school employees have a strong voice in school operations, and have the ability to make improvements for the good of their students.
Q: I’m a charter school employee. How can I get involved with UFT ACTS?
A: The first thing to do is sign up to receive news and information from UFT ACTS. You’ll get updates about professional development, news about charter schools and alerts about union activities.