NLRB OKs union vote at Ohio charter school complex
Union supporters at KIPP Columbus after turning in their union cards in Nov. 2022.Courtesy KIPP Columbus ACTS

COLUMBUS, Ohio —The National Labor Relations Board’s top regional official in Southern Ohio OK’d union authorization votes at the big KIPP charter school complex in Columbus.

Regional Director Patricia Nachand ruled on April 3 for votes among one unit of 125 educators, social workers, intervention specialists, teacher fellows, and student life coordinators and the other of six paraprofessional staffers at the 2,000-student KIPP Complex.

The paraprofessionals will get a straight up-or-down ballot on joining the Ohio Federation of Teachers, a Teachers (AFT) affiliate. The others will get a two-part ballot, with the first vote being the up-or-down choice and the second being, if a majority votes “yes,” do they want to combine into one OFT bargaining unit with the paraprofessionals.

Nachand rejected KIPP’s argument, which other charter operators have made, that charters are “a state political subdivision” because Ohio law approves and sends state funds to charters, in Ohio called community schools.

Kipp argued that because it receives millions of tax dollars–$15 million in the 2021-22 school year alone–the State Employment Relations Board, not the NLRB, should control its future in labor relations. Nachand rejected that argument, and OFT called it a gambit to delay and deny unionization.

“Instead of spending time and money to improve outcomes for our students and staff, they’re spending it on senseless legal challenges,” the union said when KIPP, operated by the private non-profit Fordham Foundation, raised the issue in November. Nachand ruled for OFT.

The NLRB “has clearly taken the position that a state’s consideration of a charter school, or in this case a community school, as a public employer, and its employees as public employees, is not controlling, especially where, as in this case, the state does not operate the school,” Nachand wrote (her emphasis). Since Ohio “does not operate” KIPP, state labor law thus doesn’t apply to it.

The vote in Columbus is also interesting because it illustrates a dual attitude towards the charter school movement, which still educates only a small share of the nation’s students.

On the one hand, AFT and the nation’s other big teachers union, the National Education Association, view the charter movement with skepticism, given its roots in the right wing and rightists’ creation of for-profit charters to avoid and defeat unions, remove tenure and due process protections from teachers, and discriminate in admissions, including by race.

On the other hand, the unions try organizing in non-profit non-discriminatory charters like KIPP, a 2,000-student K-12 complex in Columbus open to all comers which follow state standards. They’ve won elections at charters in New York, Chicago, and elsewhere.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.