A New Role for Unions
In most states, teachers unions have tried to prevent the charter school concept from getting a real test. The idea threatens their power and their concept of how public education ought to operate. However, because some legislators of both parties have stood up to this opposition, and because some charter schools are having real, measurable success, some teachers union leaders and members are rethinking their opposition.
Unions have made important contributions to social progress in this country. It is important to recognize their significant, valuable role and to discuss how the charter movement can provide new opportunities not only for educators but also for their unions.
So this chapter looks back not just at the history of struggle over charter schools but at the kinds of conflicts unions have faced and the way unions have evolved. It tries to describe fairly the ways unions have challenged the charter concept and the ways unions might, and in some cases are, changing to create new roles for themselves and new opportunities for their members.
Many people in the charter school movement recognize the long central role unions have played in advancing justice and economic opportunity in this country. Unions developed in the 1800s and 1900s in response to powerful corporations that exploited workers. The organizing of autoworkers, coal and iron ore miners, textile and garment makers, farm- and steelworkers, and the like is a proud part of the nation's history. A few powerful corporate owners were making enormous fortunes at the expense of their employees. Those employees frequently were treated like little more than peasants or chattel. Let's be clear—unions have played