(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, two KIPP schools in New York have had a majority of their teachers vote to unionize under a card check type provision. New York Times story here.

Andy Rotherham attempts to downplay the whole incident. Nice try Andy, but forget about it. KIPP should pull the plug on these schools at the end of the school year, burn down the buildings and plow salt into the ground upon which they once stood. This would be tragic for the people that no doubt worked very hard to bring these schools to life, but let’s face it, their efforts would be much better rewarded in other states.

The whole idea of running a KIPP academy along with a thousand page union contract is absurd. Half-days on Saturday? Not on your life. On call to help with homework? Are you kidding? KIPP has earned many donors, but can they afford a rubber room? Need to change a light bulb in your classroom? Page 844, paragraph 5 clearly states that you must call a union electrician. You kids sit quietly with your heads down in the dark until he arrives. It will be any day now.

KIPP has a methodology and a hard earned brand to protect, and there are plenty of other kids in other states to help. If Congress is misguided enough to pass a national card check, it will be up to individual states to ban the practice. Those that do may find themselves rewarded by the opening of some very high quality schools.

UPDATE Andy has posted a hopeful reply that the first generation of union agreement with KIPP may be benign due to the threat of closing the school, which he views as a PR nightmare. The unions seems nigh immune to bad PR to me, and the best way to get leverage is to display your willingness to use it. Let’s see how events unfold.

18 Responses to KIPP RIP

  1. Greg Forster says:

    If Congress passes a national card check, will states be allowed to ban it? I mean, states are free to permit card check now, aren’t they? So how meaningful would it be for Congress to enact a card check that states were able to opt out of?

    Or did you mean that it will be up to states to ban the practice of organizing teachers? That, I think, states could do – if any were brave enough.

  2. matthewladner says:

    My understanding is that states can require a secret ballot apart from whatever the federal government decides to do.

    I’m hoping there are enough sensible Democrats from right to work states that this won’t come to pass.

  3. Greg Forster says:

    Everything I’ve read says the whole point of the card check legislation is that a secret ballot will no longer be required – you can organize without one. That makes no sense if state and local law can require a secret ballot even if this federal bill passes.

    In today’s e-mail from the Goldwater Institute, Clint Bolick, speaking about card check, says “federal law does not control state or local workplaces.” But that pretty much covers every workplace outside of federal buildings, doesn’t it? And everybody in the federal buildings is already in the federal employees’ union.

    Color me confused.

  4. CodyPT says:

    Amen, Matt. AMEN in big capital letters. Unions will kill off the imagination, creativity, hard work and dedication that I associate with the KIPP schools.

    I hope KIPP closes its schools where the teachers decide to unionize. A unionized KIPP school will eventually die from the cancer a union will cause.

  5. matthewladner says:


    Mr. Bolick informs me that: federal law covers private-sector unionization.

    Presumably because of the 11th Amendment, federal law does not cover public employees at the state and local levels, so states set unionization rules for state and local workers.

    There is still some uncertainty concerning charter schools, because while they are public schools, it’s not clear (and may vary from state to state) whether the teachers are public employees. In NY, apparently they are; and presumably states could define them as such for purposes of imposing or safeguarding against card-check.

  6. Clint Bolick says:

    Sorry for the confusion. Federal law does not cover state and local government employees, so states (like NY) are free to set their own rules regarding unionization for those sectors.

    We are working on state constitutional amendments that would protect the right to secret ballot in all union authorizations. ( That would precipitate a fierce federalism clash as to private-sector unionization. However, it would completely prevent card-check in the state and local public-sector context. Also, in the federal card-check legislation, an opt-out will be proposed to expressly allow such protections of the secret ballot, much like the right-to-work exception that currently is allowed under federal labor law.

    The state card-check laws are moving entirely under the radar screen, and charter schools are extremely vulnerable.

  7. Socrates says:

    I agree with the substance of this post, but want to clarify one thing: KIPP AMP is the only school where teachers opted to have the union represent them in negotiations. The other TWO KIPP schools that are unionized in NYC are so as a relic of early decisions on the part of staff and administration alike. AMP is the only one that’s unionized due to acrimony or discontent.

  8. Greg Forster says:

    Thanks for walking me through that, guys.

    And hey, Socrates, glad you could join us – did someone call you up after I wrote in a post yesterday “Somebody get Socrates on the line” and tell you to check out our blog?

  9. matthewladner says:

    My thanks to both Clint and Socrates for clarification.

  10. […] that effort to unionize a KIPP school going? Depends on who you ask……..Should America’s Black History Month itself fade into history?  Some […]

  11. Brian says:

    The 11th amendment does not always keep federal legislation from applying to state employees, and to the extent that it does it only protects states from lawsuits if they fail to comply. Courts can still order them to follow the law, but there is little recourse that can be taken if they ignore the law. See Seminole v Florida.

    The feds have a workaround as well. They’ll do their best to pass these types of laws under powers obtained from the 14th amendment if possible. The courts have established that the 14th trumps the 11th. That’s why FMLA legislation relied heavily on “discrimatory” justifications for ensuring equal access to leave by males and females. Framing it that way got them past the 11th amendment hurdle.

    The Commerce Clause it out of style because the 11th trumps it. The 14th trumps the 11th.

    • Greg Forster says:

      Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to undermine federalism by inventing the doctrine of “incorporation” because it’s easier than amending the Constitution to get what we want.

  12. Patrick says:

    The good news is we will likely have more hard evidence of unions destroying innovation in just a few years (test student achievement before and after). The bad news is the kids will suffer.

  13. Patrick says:

    From Andy’s Blog:

    Update: Matt Ladner calls me out as a teachers’ union apologist. Perhaps. But I think the specter Matt describes isn’t likely here because of this leverage question. Having looked closely at this issue from a couple of perspectives I’d say that the first generation contracts will not be onerous at all. It’s the second and third generation effects that are unknown and important for charter schools to think through. Yet there is risk there for the teachers’ unions, too. Namely dilution. The more reformist agreements they sign onto and the more common the portfolio approach to contracts becomes then the harder it gets to defend a lot of the work rules that exist in many places. And, it’s possible to envision a scenario where they become sort of like AAA. People sign up for services they like but are largely ignorant of the organization’s public policy positions and advocacy. There is some of that going on now as it is. That could mean several things, good and bad, for education politics.

  14. Corey says:

    Two questions:

    1.) KIPP Academy in the Bronx has been unionized since inception. Is it doing noticeably worse than other KIPP schools?

    2.) Why is it that union-busting is ok to suggest? Have we learned nothing from the Pinkerton guards? Is it completely out of the realm of possibility that the school could successfully negotiate with unionized teachers?

  15. Saba says:

    Unions creep in because labor is not happy. No one seems to mention the fact that the KIPP teacher demands for teacher time leads to a lot of burn-out. Could this be a flaw in the model? Part of the reason they hire TFA alums is to find those dedicated souls who will work incredibly long hours because they care about kids. But at some point it will be difficult to replicate. The sad part is they turned to a union instead of working with school leaders which is very hard to understand.

  16. […] Matt Ladner calls me out as a teachers’ union apologist.   Perhaps.  But I think the specter Matt describes isn’t likely here because of this […]

  17. […] the blog of Jay Greene and the United Cherry Pickers, Matthew Ladner suggests that what Rome is reputed to have done to Carthage is the right approach for an unionized charter […]

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