Unchartered Territory


Teachers in Massachusetts made history recently when they became the first group of charter school teachers to join the Teamsters Union. The 80 teachers, who work at the Advanced Math and Science Academy Charter School in Marlborough, Mass., joined Local 170 in Worcester, Mass., through card-check recognition. The vote was certified by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations.

“These teachers are going to make great Teamsters. They’re smart, dedicated, and they now have a voice that can be heard, and a mechanism to resolve their problems amicably. We’re excited to move forward together and negotiate the best contract for them,” said Mike Hogan, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 170. “Their efforts to organize were impressive, and we are thankful to the new members, and to Joint Council 10 for their support.”

Some of the best and brightest students in the state attend Advanced—nearly 1,000 students in grades 6-12. U.S. News & World Report ranks the school the second-best in Massachusetts, which reflects well on the school’s teachers. And while the students know they will return to the classroom after school breaks, they don’t always know if their teachers will return.

“Our contracts with the school are at-will contracts. It’s clearly stated that we can be let go at any time for any reason,” said Jessica Bowen, a six-year history and music teacher, who taught advanced placement government classes this year.

“The number-one issue is the employee at-will status,” said Paul Stuart, a Local 170 organizer who worked with the teachers as they organized. “They have one-year contracts. They never knew from year to year if they’d be working again.”

Secure Future

In her time at Advanced, Bowen has witnessed the school terminate a number of teachers, and said the teachers that remained were getting increasingly frustrated with an environment that “did not value what we contributed as professional educators.”

“It was upsetting to the parents to lose really good teachers. We had a lot of parental support for unionization,” Bowen said.

Some teachers prefer working at charter schools because they feel it provides a certain flexibility or freedom. Lino Alvarez teaches computer science and web design at Advanced. Working at a charter school, Alvarez could also teach a photography elective and Spanish, which he enjoys. However, a little flexibility comes at a big price.

Alvarez, like many of his colleagues, wants just cause and due process, a hallmark of Teamster contracts.

“A lot of key people, award-winning teachers, were let go. That decision cannot be made in five minutes in a back room so someone else can get the job. We need a process so that everyone can feel more protected,” Alvarez said. “We looked at other unions but decided the Teamsters was the best union for us.”

Recently, the principal of Advanced resigned and the executive director was transferred to a new position. With all the changes taking place at the school, the teachers feel comfort in knowing they now have their union.

“I see how vulnerable workers can be without unions. I’m a history teacher so I studied the labor movement, but in an academic sense. To see how it works firsthand is eye opening,” Bowen said. “The Teamsters were so positive and every time we asked questions, we got answers. It felt right, like we now have the support we needed.”