When you think of charter schools, there are probably a few people and concepts that come to mind: Michelle Rhee, “grit,”
Bill Gates, Eva Moskowitz, KIPP, etc. And if you happen to think of
teachers unions at some point during this education policy reverie,
you’ll probably have them in the role they’re traditionally assigned by
the media — as anti-charter and anti-reform. Just like Israelis and
Palestinians, Crips and Bloods, Yankees and Red Sox, teachers unions and
the charter movement simply don’t like each other. That’s just the way
But according to a recent piece in the American Prospect
by Rachel M. Cohen, the truth of how charters and unions relate to one
another is more complicated. It turns out that there are some charter
school teachers out there who’ve started to think a union isn’t such a
bad idea after all; and their ranks are growing. Whether it’s in Los
Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago or New York, Cohen shows, the future of
education policy is very much in flux. In fact, the day when the
financial backers of charters have to decide which they care about more —
breaking unions or educating kids — may arrive sooner than you think.
Salon spoke over the phone with Cohen to discuss her piece, the
motivations of charter teachers who are seeking to unionize, and why
their success may actually bring charters closer to their historical roots and original mission. Our conversation is below and has been edited for clarity and length.
How widespread are the efforts to unionize among charter teachers?
definitely not the majority. They say 7 percent of all charter school
teachers are currently unionized, and half of those were because the
state set that up when they created the charter law. For example, in
Baltimore, which I didn’t talk about in my piece, all charter school
teachers are unionized, but not because they came together and started a
union draft like they’re doing in Philadelphia or Chicago, where the
state said you have to follow your district’s collective bargaining
By no measure is it the majority, but what’s
interesting now is that there are fairly larger networks of charter
schools starting to do it, and if alliance charter school teachers
succeed in L.A. (which is the largest charter school network), then that
would impact what other smaller schools do.
What tend to be the pro-union teachers’ complaints?
charter school teachers work on year-to-year contracts, which does not
provide great stability, especially if you’re trying to create a family.
of the things that I saw was that charter school teachers tended to be
younger, and some of the teachers that I spoke with who were in their
early 30s were like, “I want to stay at this school, but if I want to
get married and have kids there’s no way that I can not know if I have a
job in September once May rolls around. I need to either work in a
district school or unionize this school, because this whole tenuous
working model is not sustainable for the kind of middle-class life I’m
trying to build.” So that’s something all workers are trying to figure
out how to get for themselves.
United Nations reports that we have 15 years to avert a full-blown
water crisis and that, by 2030, demand for water will outstrip supply by
40 percent. Five hundred renowned scientists brought together by UN
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that our collective abuse of water
has caused the earth to enter a “new geologic age,” a “planetary
transformation” akin to the retreat of the glaciers more than 11,000
years ago. Already, they reported, a majority of the world’s population
lives within a 30-mile radius of water sources that are badly stressed
or running out.
For a long time, we in the Global North,
especially North America and Europe, have seen the growing water crisis
as an issue of the Global South. Certainly, the grim UN statistics on
those without access to water and sanitation have referred mostly to
poor countries in Africa, Latin America, and large parts of Asia.
Heartbreaking images of children dying of waterborne disease have always
seemed to come from the slums of Nairobi, Kolkata, or La Paz.
Similarly, the worst stories of water pollution and shortages have
originated in the densely populated areas of the South.
global water crisis is just that—global—in every sense of the word. A
deadly combination of growing inequality, climate change, rising water
prices, and mismanagement of water sources in the North has suddenly put
the world on a more even footing.
There is now a Third World in
the First World. Growing poverty in rich countries has created an
underclass that cannot pay rising water rates. As reported by Circle of
Blue, the price of water in 30 major US cities is rising faster than
most other household staples—41 percent since 2010, with no end in
sight. As a result, increasing numbers cannot pay their water bills, and
cutoffs are growing across the country. Inner-city Detroit reminds me
more of the slums of Bogotá than the North American cities of my
Historic poverty and unemployment in Europe have also
put millions at risk. Caught between unaffordable rising water rates and
the imposition of European-wide austerity measures, thousands of
families in Spain, Portugal, and Greece have had their water service cut
off. An employee of the water utility Veolia Eau was fired for refusing
to cut supplies to 1,000 families in Avignon, France.
As in the
Global South, the trend of privatizing water services has placed an
added burden on the poor of the North. Food and Water Watch and other
organizations have clearly documented that the rates for water and sewer
services rise dramatically with privatization. Unlike government water
agencies, corporate-run water services must make a profit for their
I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.