Neighborhood House Charter School teachers to form union backed by Boston Teachers Union

Educators from NHCS in Dorchester celebrate after voting to form a union backed by the Boston Teachers Union last week. The Dorchester charter will be one of the few unionized charters in the city.
Photo courtesy Boston Teachers Union

Educators at Neighborhood House Charter School (NHCS) in Dorchester have voted to unionize their workforce and align with the Boston Teachers Union. The union will include teachers, social workers, speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, school psychologists, custodians, office staff, dining hall workers, paraprofessionals, and others.

Long-time elementary teacher Kate Chisholm said unionizing will give the staff a voice they haven’t had before to negotiate with administrators on a contract that spells out work conditions and pay.

“I think organizing will give staff a sense of security – knowing that we have representation, that we have people they can come to and ask questions,” said Chisholm. “I think just having a contract where we all have a voice in what’s being put into that contract would be extremely powerful, because we don’t have that right now.

“I think that would be a really powerful thing for all of us to come together to think about what we need as a team to be successful but also for our students to be successful.”

Charter schools, particularly in Boston, have traditionally made a selling point of being outside of the teacher’s union. The 800-student NHCS, which was founded in 1995, is one of the oldest charter schools in the city, so unionizing the school community – roughly 100 employees– is a significant change.

“We are very proud to be standing with the educators at Neighborhood House to support their efforts to build a better future for students and staff at the school,” said BTU President Jessica Tang. “We are thrilled to welcome NHCS educators to the BTU family and look forward to supporting their students and families as well.”

NHCS leadership said in a statement that it was notified by the BTU that teachers had petitioned the state Department of Labor Relations (DLR) to certify two collective bargaining units.

“As educators committed to the well-being and success of our students, we understand and respect the right of our teachers and staff to organize and advocate for their interests and needs,” read the statement. “We remain committed to advancing the mission of the school, continuing to provide high-quality education for our scholars, and meeting the needs of our teachers and staff.”

In the petition delivered to management from educators, it read: “After years of being shut out, we have organized for a voice on the job.” It also said educators are committed to making the school a model of education in Boston “once again.”

The educators and the NHCS administration will now work via the BTU to achieve a contract agreement that will spell out working conditions and pay.

Dorchester and Boston charter schools have historically been difficult for the BTU to organize, with only City on a Hill Charter in Roxbury and Somerville becoming unionized in recent years. However, that school announced recently that it will be closing next year. Conservatory Lab Charter in Uphams Corner did unionize in the past, but the union was later voted out.

Boston charters and BPS had a rocky relationship for many years until a compact was drawn up by former mayor Tom Menino late in his tenure that was successful in sharing education models and allowing charters to lease unused BPS school buildings.

That collaboration, however, was eroded in a contentious state ballot question in 2016 that would have allowed charters to expand in Boston. A robust ‘No on 2’ campaign led by the BTU and charter opponents was not well-received in the charter community. It left the compact on ice ever since.

The BTU represents more than 10,000 active and retired educators in the Boston Public Schools.

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