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First unionized Arizona charter school wins big gains in bargaining first contract

By staff

Educators at Basis Tucson North are building a strong union.

Tucson, AZ – Asserting their power as workers, the educators at BASIS Tucson North won three major victories even before finishing bargaining a first contract. First, paid time off days will increase from five to ten. Second, some educators will receive pay at the rate of $40 per hour for being assigned extra subbing duties. Third, the punitive “attendance bonus” system, which compensated teachers for not using their days of paid time off and which unfairly punished educators with disabilities and illnesses, will come to an end. These changes will take effect starting in August of the 2023-2024 school year.

In fall of 2021, teachers joined with support staff educators for unionization campaign to answer the worsening conditions and a shortage of labor at BASIS Tucson North. The list of intolerable conditions included working hours with few breaks, a lack of paid time off, stagnant wages, lack of services and support for students, and a reduction in health benefits.

On April 12 of this year, the teachers and teaching fellows at BASIS Tucson North voted in a National Labor Relations Board election to be represented by the American Federation of Teachers under the name Arizona Alliance of Charter School Teachers and Staff, or AZACTS, by a 2-1 margin. The victory makes BASIS Tucson North the first charter school in Arizona to unionize.

Will Slattery is a high school English teacher that served on the committee that organized the school. He is confident that the decision will come with wins for the school community. “This year teachers and teaching fellows at BTN formed a union to secure the resources we need to serve our communities. Our collective power as workers gives us the ability to stand up for ourselves and our students,” Slattery said.

The business that manages the schools, BASIS Ed, hired the union-busting firm Ogeltree Deakins to develop anti-union rhetoric during the time leading up to the election. This practice is typical of union-busting efforts.

The vote to unionize had an immediate impact, in that the owners and CEO of the school announced immediate improvements in conditions in an email to educators at other campuses. These improvements included doubling the number of paid time off days available from five to ten, removing a punishing bonus system that discouraged teachers from taking days off, and paying some substitute educators, something that they had refused to do for decades prior.

Despite the improvements at other campuses, the company insisted that they were unable to implement these changes at BASIS Tucson North due to the victory of the union in the election. In spite of BASIS Ed’s tactics, the AZACTS negotiations team demanded these changes be implemented before they were negotiated in the contract.

The victory adds to the recent successes of Chicago Teachers Union organizing charter schools in Illinois. Reactionary forces have used charter schools and voucher systems to defund public schools and defang organized teacher power in the public sector. Many educators have responded by leaving the field altogether. Those that stay are faced with the choice of putting up with conditions and suffering individually, or to join the educators at BASIS who stood up for themselves and to work collectively to assert their needs and the needs of their students.

The victory of organizing BASIS Tucson North and the unprecedented improvement to conditions is a testament to the strength of organizing labor unions to improve workers’ lives. The negotiations team with AZACTS continues bargaining through the year in order to attain a contract that utilizes the power built by union educators and improves conditions for all educators and students.