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Cesar Chavez Academy Finally Rolls Union In, but the Struggle Continues

Elena Herrada speaks on the struggle that teachers at the Cesar Chavez Academy (CCA), a charter school in Southwest Detroit, have been facing in their attempt to form a union.

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Over the past several months, teachers and staff at Cesar Chavez Academy (CCA), a charter school in Southwest Detroit, have been organizing a union, the Cesar Chavez Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (CCA-ACTS). During the organizing campaign, The Leona Group, the private company that manages the school, has intimidated and interrogated staff in an attempt to undermine organizing efforts. Nevertheless, a supermajority of staff are demanding that The Leona Group recognize their union so that they can begin the bargaining process.

We have been down this road before. Remember the divisions we had in the community around the organizing drive(s) of Mexican Industries. Families were on both sides of the struggle; some hated the union, others wanted the union. There were many outside forces in the mix, and at that time many different unions weighing in. When Hank Aguirre died and his family took over the business, his spirit was not sufficient to keep the union out. There were so many labor violations and workplace indignities that the people voted to roll the union in, and the company, it turned out, without Hank at the helm, was going broke. The union took the hit for the demise of the company, despite the facts.

Now comes a union drive that should have been realized the moment it was decided that the school would be named in honor of Cesar Chavez. There should never have been a school named after him without a union. To Cesar, the Collective Bargaining Agreement was like the Bible. It made all parties equal in the workplace. Never should we, as community and activists and comrades of Cesar, have allowed this school to come in without a union. But better late than never.

We have a responsibility to show the children and the youth in our community that dignity in the workplace cannot be achieved if we allow ourselves to be intimidated, bullied, separated from each other. The right to association is essential to us as a community, as neighbors, as family. So don’t take it personal that people attack you from inside; friendly fire is as inevitable as struggle.

We will support the rights of teachers and parents and students to speak truth without fear of intimidation no matter what the outcome. In our beloved community, we have overcome many differences. We will overcome this one, too.

There are people I know and love who are trying to keep the union out. There are people I do not respect who purport to be on the side of the union and I admit I am suspicious of them. We must be vigilant to ensure that there is a real union contract, not a sweetheart contract that the non-profits control. This must be a genuine movement and real union or we will have lost credibility on all sides. The right to bargain wages, hours and working conditions are the bedrock of the union. Seniority is essential; if you work hard and stay a long time, you have a right not to be replaced by Teach for America or scabs by any other name.

We have serious struggles to wage and this is one in a series. Principled positions cannot be compromised because of our comrades, compadres, friends and family. We have to be able to stand up with dignity and face down injustice, no matter who we have to confront. If our relationships are strained because of this, that is a part of life. We have to be stronger than peer pressure if we want to teach our youth anything worth modeling.