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Unionized North Carolina Charter Schools?

The National Labor Relations Board recently held that a New York charter school is a “private employer” under the federal National Labor Relations Act, and therefore subject to the regulations of that Act. This ruling touches on a fascinating wrinkle of our school system here in North Carolina, and has potentially significant legal ramifications.

You see in North Carolina, public sector employees, including public school teachers, are prohibited under General Statutes §§ 95-98.1 and 95-98.2 from forming unions, from engaging in collective bargaining, and from going on strike–all rights that are guaranteed to private sector employees under the NLRA. Although the federal NLRA only applies to private employees, many states, including New York, have enacted state legislation mirroring the NLRA, granting their public employees the same or similar rights to those enjoyed by private employees under the NLRA. North Carolina, on the other hand, is one of a handful of states which outright prohibit their own employees from exercising those same rights. That's right: Under North Carolina law, it is illegal for public school teachers to go on strike.

However, North Carolina’s charter schools have come under fire in recent years for avoiding regulatory constraints–including important accountability measures–essentially by identifying themselves as “private” entities, despite being publicly funded. If, as the Labor Relations Board found in New York (and as charter schools so often argue), charter schools are in fact private entities, then teachers working for North Carolina charter schools may be surprised to learn that they have the right to go on strike, to form unions, and to collectively bargain, as guaranteed under the federal NLRA! Time will tell if North Carolina’s charter school teachers will pick up this fight.

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