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KIPP Columbus Educators Win Union Vote

May 5, 2023
Contact: Neil Bhaerman,

KIPP Columbus Educators Win Union Vote

COLUMBUS — Today, a strong majority of educators at KIPP Columbus voted to form their union, KIPP Columbus ACTS (Alliance for Charter Teachers & Staff) in a secret ballot election administered by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The vote followed a months-long union busting campaign by KIPP Columbus’s administration. The union includes approximately 130 teachers, intervention specialists, social workers, teacher fellows, student life coordinators, and paraprofessionals who work at the four schools on the KIPP Columbus campus (Primary, Elementary, Middle, and High).

“We are beyond thrilled that our staff came together and voted to form a union! I am confident that we will now be able to address high turnover, large class sizes, unsustainable coverage practices, and equitable treatment for our amazing staff members,” said Stephanie Holiday, an intervention specialist at KIPP Middle School. “All of this will lead to a healthier workplace environment and better outcomes for our students.”

Educators filed a petition for their union on November 15, 2022 with support from 78% of eligible employees. Under normal circumstances, an NLRB election would have been held within weeks, but KIPP Columbus delayed the vote for almost six months by filing a frivolous legal challenge claiming that the NLRB did not have jurisdiction for Ohio charter schools – an issue that the NLRB had already decided on multiple occasions.
KIPP Columbus then used that delay for an intense union busting campaign that included mandatory attendance in anti-union meetings, high-priced union busting consultants, and a long series of misleading emails that were sent to all staff. 

“I'm so overjoyed that our colleagues were able to band together through all the intense union-busting emails and pull out this victory! We no longer have to fear speaking up,” said Jenean Stokes, a social worker at KIPP Columbus Primary School. “Whether colleagues voted yes or no for this union, I am more than confident that we can all continue positive conversations to make changes we all want to see in collaboration with KIPP administration. Now the real work begins."

While many of these tactics are technically legal, they are more commonly seen at large for-profit companies, not at charter schools that depend on public education dollars for the vast majority of their funding and have a responsibility to use those funds to educate students. However, some of KIPP Columbus’s actions were against the law. The union filed charges with the NLRB for four Unfair Labor Practices pertaining to illegal harassment and retaliation of union supporters. The NLRB has already determined that two of the charges have merit, and have not yet ruled on the other two. 

KIPP Columbus ACTS formed their union in affiliation with the Ohio Federation of Teachers (OFT) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT). With the addition of the four KIPP Columbus schools, OFT now represents teachers and staff at 13 Ohio charter schools. AFT represents charter teachers and staff at schools across the country, including KIPP schools in New York City, Baltimore, and St. Louis. 

“We are thrilled to welcome the educators at KIPP Columbus to our union! Their dedication to their schools and their desire to reduce turnover and meet the needs of their students were the driving factors behind their successful campaign,” said Melissa Cropper, President of the OFT. “We are extremely disappointed by KIPP Columbus’s tactics of harassment and intimidation, which included mandatory anti-union meetings, out-of-state consultants who failed to follow federal compliance rules, and a barrage of emails – 16 over a span of 14 workdays – meant to confuse, dissuade, and demoralize.” 

“Congratulations to the brave educators and staff at KIPP Columbus on winning your union! We have seen firsthand what is possible when you come together as a staff and advocate on behalf of your students and one another,” said Jeff Leshansky, a theater teacher at KIPP Academy Elementary School in the South Bronx and member of the United Federation of Teachers, AFT’s New York City local union. 
If KIPP follows the legal obligation to respect the results of this union election, the next step will be to negotiate a fair contract. In an informal survey during their organizing campaign, KIPP educators ranked issues that they would like to address during those negotiations. The top priorities were: lack of substitute teachers, class size, staff turnover, and unprotected planning periods (ie. having to cover other work during time that should be available for educators to prepare lessons, activities and exams). 

“I am grateful that we were able to have a vote and that we are moving forward with bringing a voice to the people,” said Andrew Mensah, a math teacher at KIPP Columbus High School. “I am excited that our staff now has a seat at the table to make decisions. Together we will continue to make KIPP Columbus the best school it can be for our students, families, staff, and community.” 

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