State College charter school employees vote to join PSEA
The employees of the Young Scholars of Central Pennsylvania Charter School in State College voted on March 29 to unionize with the Pennsylvania State Education Association.
The new union, which includes teachers, speech and language therapists, guidance counselors, librarians, teacher aides, custodians and secretaries, will be certified by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board. Young Scholars Charter School has its charter through the State College Area School District and provides programs for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
“We are thrilled by the outcome of today’s vote because it represents a great step for all charter school employees in the state. These workers need protection, a voice in their workplace and PSEA is ready to help them,” said Kelby Waltman, PSEA Director of External Organizing. “These workers need to have a say in their working conditions and they need to know that they have security in their jobs, just like their colleagues in other public schools.”
Waltman said PSEA received a phone call from the charter school employees in September and the organizing campaign kicked off in January. Last year PSEA organized the Pennsylvania Learners Online Charter School, a charter cyber school. The Young Scholars Charter School is the first brick and mortar charter school to join PSEA.
“We are eager to help these education workers. By having PSEA behind them to bargain and advocate for their rights, the educators can concentrate on their students and their work in the classroom,” Waltman said. “These employees need to feel assured that that they have a voice in their work and a sense of security. We have made history tonight in State College.”
Waltman said that because charter schools are very autonomous, workers often deal with different working conditions than traditional public schools.
“It is not uncommon to find charter school teachers who are required to work more hours for much less pay then other public school teachers. Many have also faced arbitrary dismissals or being diminished to part time positions without warning. Often times they don’t even know if they still have a job after the school year ends,” Waltman said. “As a result, the turnover rate in charter schools is often very high, and morale very low. It was only a matter of time until the workers sought support from unions to improve their working conditions.”
Leah Guizar, an YSCP teacher, said she was interested in joining PSEA because the workers needed job security and the opportunity to have a voice in decisions made at the school. YSCP workers say the turnover rate at the school is very high because of the inconsistent working conditions.
“It is important that charter school teachers have the same rights as other educators. We need to know that we have jobs from year to year. PSEA is a tried and true organization and we need their support to protect our interests so we can do the job we love,” Guizar said.
YSCP workers said the most important reason for unionizing was the need to have a salary schedule, protection from arbitrary dismissals and a voice in decisions that affect the students.
“Over the years I have seen many good teachers leave the school. Often our voices are not heard by the administration when we have ideas or suggestions. We are hoping that with a union, this will change,” said Ryan Wade, who has taught music at YSCP for four years.
Parents of YSCS students supported the education workers in their unionization campaign. “The parents know the teachers do a marvelous job, but they need the security a union provides and to be treated fairly and equally. The parents are supportive of whatever the workers need to do their jobs,” said Dr. Darcy Gustafson, whose son attends YSCP. “As a former classroom teacher and union member, I know how important the union is to their work.”
YSCS teacher Rebecca Light, whose husband is president of the Teamsters Union at Penn State University, said she was on board with the union campaign from the beginning.
“Unions provide unity and support for the workers. It isn’t about each person out there on their own. We care about the children and we need a sense of unity to make our curriculum even better,” Light said.
The new association joins the two additional PSEA local associations in State College – the State College Area Education Association, which represents more than 650 teachers in the public schools, and the State College Education Support Personnel Association, which represents 350 secretaries and aides in the public schools.
If you work in an educational or health care setting in Pennsylvania and you are not represented by a union, contact PSEA's organizing team to learn more about PSEA membership.