This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Decked out in blue for the school’s colors, teachers and staff at ASPIRA Olney Charter High School linked arms in the school’s empty cafeteria Thursday evening as a government agent tallied votes.
In a decision culminating three years of organizing, teachers at the high school voted 104-38 to form a union. The staff also decided to form one union for professional staff, which includes teachers, nurses, and librarians, among others, and non-professional staff. The latter category comprises truancy liaisons, mentor coordinators, transition assistants, and administrative assistants.
"I’m blown away," said Hannah Myers, who teaches English for Speakers of Other Languages and says she was a "mover and shaker" in getting the union off the ground. "I’m really proud. … We’ve had such perseverance over the last three years organizing."
Some teachers described an uphill battle over the years. World history teacher Hanako Franz said, "ASPIRA definitely came down hard on us" in the first year of organizing.
Franz said the school labeled teachers calling for a union "bullies" and went so far as to violate national labor law by asking staff about their level of support for a union. "We had to file unfair labor practices, and it got really tense in the building," she said.
She said the National Labor Relations Board upheld three of the four unfair labor practice complaints filed.
As recently as this week, Olney High teachers said school leaders shortened instruction time by three hours in a day, so that staff could attend mandatory meetings with consultants. These consultants, said Franz, "[told] us all the down sides about why we shouldn’t form a union."